Emergence: Complexity & Organization (17.1)


2015, ISSN 1521-3250 (113 pages)


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Editorial: Complexity and understanding (vii-xii)
Peter M. Allen


Social complexity theory for sense seeking: Unearthing leadership mindsets for unknowable and uncertain times (1-20)
Heather Davis
This exposition considers perspectives underpinning contemporary leadership studies given we are located in what Hawking describes as the ‘century of complexity’, also understood as a Knowledge Era. Social complexity as context allows consideration of the turbulence our times without looking for guaranteed, certain, or ‘right’ answers and allows us to work with these conditions, rather than succumb to threat rigidity, pretend they do not exist, or think they are someone else’s problem. To make sense of these conditions requires ontological and cognitive shifts of mindset that more closely match the ‘requisite variety’ of the complexities of our times. The paper draws upon a PhD interpretive inquiry which identified cogent leadership literacies for the 21st century and explored them within Australian university settings. Various cognitive frames feature in this paper and serve to illuminate possibilities for scholars and practitioners seeking fresh approaches for leadership studies for a Knowledge Era. Whilst there are many contemporary scholars already doing so it is also clear that the ontological shifts are not easy and that archaic mindsets are difficult to dislodge even in light of wicked problems like the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 or environmental disasters.

Interpreting “big history” as complex adaptive system dynamics with nested logistic transitions in energy flow and organization (21-39)
David LePoire
Big History might be considered the study of an evolving, large, complex adaptive system with three very different phases progressing geometrically from the early universe to the present day. A geometrical progression rate would suggest transitions to life evolution beginning at about 5 billion years ago; to brain evolution around 5 million years ago; and further transition to technological civilization development about 5,000 years ago. Characteristic properties of complex adaptive systems include: (1) a resource which drives the level of complexity, such as energy flow; (2) new options at critical nonlinear decision points along development paths tied to levels of energy flow; and (3) continuous logistic learning as the options are explored; (4) scaling of other dimensions besides energy, such as length and time scales of important processes. This paper presents indications that these processes are occurring through historical trends in energy, environment, economics, and organization. The understanding of these phenomena could contribute to our ability to develop and anticipate potential future scenarios with more integrated, systemic, and effective approaches and expectations.

Engaging alternative cognitive pathways for taming wicked problems: A case study (40-58)
Luke Houghton
I present a model of ’engagement’ to explain how strategic decision makers use different concepts simultaneously to tame wicked problems in a modern business environment. Attention is placed on ’framing’ and ’reframing’ and how this can lead to the resolution of complex problems. I analyze a longitudinal case study of a transport logistics company, where a complex problem was framed through one set of concepts, reframed by another, and eventually tamed. I argue that strategic problem solving involves an engagement of different ideas and a process of reframing to tame wicked problems. Particular attention is paid to how the key actors interacted and how these interactions influenced ’engagement’. I conclude by relating this to modern European managers and the emergent problems they face.

Does sustainability emerge from between the scales? (59-75)
Helena Bender & Kate Judith
This paper applies systems thinking and emergence theory to present an understanding of sustainability in terms of the human actions and attitudes required for sustainability to emerge. Sustainability is viewed as an emergent quality that occurs when the interactions within the system, and between the system and its environment are nourishing. We suggest this conception is useful because it indicates the kinds of relationships individuals and groups need to engage in as actors; the responsibilities and importance of observers in recognizing emergent patterns; and the significance of the relationship between the actor and observer scales. We aim to identify strategies in these three areas that can best facilitate the emergence of sustainability. Emergence theory is found to be a fruitful framework for generating solutions and stimulating new thinking about defining, monitoring, or acting for sustainability.

Two complexities: The need to link complex thinking and complex adaptive systems science (76-89)
Tatiana Medvedeva
This article reflects the division in the field of the study of complexity, between a mainly philosophical and epistemological approach (Edgar Morin called it “general complexity”) and a mainly scientific and methodological approach (called by Morin as “restricted complexity”). The first perspective would be well represented by Morin’s “complex thinking,” while the second by the new “science of complex adaptive systems.” We show the potential and limits of each perspective, and conclude by claiming the need to relink both the perspectives into a comprehensive “paradigm of complexity” that is capable of providing, and following the original definition of Thomas Kuhn, at the same time a worldview (“general complexity”) and examples of scientific achievements (“restricted complexity”).


Two complexities: The need to link complex thinking and complex adaptive systems science (76-89)
Wim Hordijk


Adjacent opportunities: Adrift (90-93)
Ron Schultz

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