Theoretical foundation

Three main concepts are shaping our work.

Complex adaptive systems
The term complex adaptive systems has been developed by the Santa Fe Institute. They understand those systems as a large number of agents who act according to a certain set of rules. All of these agents interact with and adapt to each other. Complexity research tries to understand the common indicators and dynamics of such systems or networks. As opposed to a traditional scientific approach, which would expect to find an overriding plan for the entire system, complexity scientists model the interaction of all agents to their local principles. They show how the principle of self-organisation leads to the emergence and preservation of order from a stadium of low order or complexity. This leads to fundamental structural innovations as opposed to superficial changes.

Organisations as communicative processes
The Complexity and Management Centre of the University of Hertfordshire understands organisations as complex processes of relating. This rejects any idea of a system when we look at human behaviour. It is the communicative interaction between people that form the basis of the organisation. It highlights the meaning of the informal as opposed to instructions. It underlines the importance of genuine and present experience.

This understanding of organisations as communicative processes builds the foundation for participative self-organisation in which relations have the ability to form entirely new patterns. This implicates unpredictable outcome.  This must lead to a new understanding of leadership. Effective leaders tend to develop greater spontaneity and the ability to accept the views of their team members. On this basis they enter greater risks and strengthen the communication between groups.

Technical versus adaptive challenges
Richard Pascale and his colleagues focus their work on the adaptation of complexity science on working with organisations. One of the key aspects is the differentiation between technical and adaptive challenges, a distinction first introduced by Harvard University professor Ronald Heifetz. Technical challenges are characterized by the ability to use certain techniques and methods to create successful results.

Adaptive challenges involve the leading of many non-linear factors. This means to develop new methods and techniques to create successful results. There is very low predictability and forecasting. Misunderstanding and conflicts are prevalent, but the possibility for fundamental innovation is high.

Certain paradigms in management sciences negate these differences and focus on the technical view on existing challenges. Most everyday situations within organisations and companies are characterised by a mix of both forms.


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