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Through The Lens Of Complexity Theory : Concepts For Managing Change


Managing Change is among the most crucial people-management issues of our age. Every year the Human Resource Institute surveys hundreds of HR professionals from many of the top companies in the world, asking them about the most important issues they’re facing today and will be facing in 10 years. Managing Change has appeared at or near the top of the list for most of the 1990s. Our 1998 survey shows that Managing Change remains a top ranked issue today and is expected to still be ranked among the top five most important issues in the year 2008.

Such survey findings are no great surprise. Throughout the business world, in virtually every discipline, people are scrambling to manage in a turbulent world. The number of books and articles on the subject has exploded in recent years. One new book co-authored by Stanford’s Prof. Kathleen M. Eisenhardt simply asserts "change is the striking feature of contemporary business.… From autos to telecommunications, from Santiago to Stockholm, constant change has become the norm."

In their sometimes desperate quest to manage change, employers have been using a variety of strategies: investing in information technologies, reengineering work processes, empowering front-line employees, organizing around teams, emphasizing quality mprovements or customer service, etc. Although all of these are known to be effective under some circumstances, it is sometimes hard to see how they all fit together. There are few paradigms that enable business people to gain a "big picture" of what is happening and what should be done in these uncertain times.

One of the most intriguing of the big-picture paradigms comes from so-called complexity theory. Studying complex systems has become one of the most ambitious and all-encompassing intellectual challenges of recent times. The term complexity usually refers to the study of self-organizing, adaptive systems, which range from single-celled organisms to large business
organizations. By studying complexity, scientists and researchers are trying to understand how a group of independent agents can generate singular systems that evolve and adapt to their environments. A number of business writers have begun trying to apply complexity theory to business organizations. 

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