Complexity, patterns and links

March 27, 2012

The mainstream ways of thinking about management are based on the sciences of certainty. The whole system of strategic choice, goal setting and choosing actions to reach the given goals in a controlled way depends on predictability. The problem is that this familiar causal foundation cannot explain the reality we face. Almost daily, we experience the inability of people to choose what happens in their organizations – or in their countries. We live in a complex world. Things may appear orderly over time, but are inherently unpredictable.

Complexity refers to a pattern, a movement in time that is at the same time predictable and unpredictable, knowable and unknowable. Healthy, ordinary, everyday life is always complex, no matter what the situation is. There is absolutely no linearity in the world of human beings.

Human patterns that lose this complexity become repetitive and rapidly inappropriate for dealing with life. Unlike mechanical systems, human systems thrive on variety and diversity. An exact replication of behavior in nature would be disastrous and seen as neurotic in social life. For example, a failing heart is typically characterized by increasing loss of complexity.

A pattern is something that emerges through the complex interactions between elements in a system. Although there is apparent order, there is never exact repetition if the system is viable. This is why human interaction cannot be understood as processes in the way they were used in manufacturing, but as patterns.

Patterns that are more repetitive are normally called routines or habits. This conclusion is important for us. Novelty emerges in a radically unpredictable way. Creativity is seldom the end result of a repetitive process.

The Internet changes the patterns of connectivity, transforms our understanding what “local” is, and makes possible wide participation and new enriching variety in interaction. By relying on the interactions of millions of people instead of a few experts/managers to classify content on the net, Google democratized scientific citation indexing. To be able to manage the increasingly complex organizations of today, the same kind of democratization needs to take place in the corporate world. Companies are transforming themselves from industrial mass production to creating value in networks of mass communication.

Transparency of tasks is the corporate equivalent of publishing academic articles. Responsive linking, rather than predictive linking such as in corporate hierarchies and process charts, acts as a measure of relevance, control and value. This has served the academic community well. It made Sergey Brin and Larry Page billionaires. Now is the time to do the same in the corporate world.

The Google lesson for management is, that the more work is based on responsive, democratic processes of relating and the more organizing is an ongoing process of communicative linking, the more value we can create!

It is now time for the sciences of uncertainty.

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5 Responses to “Complexity, patterns and links”

  1. John Wenger Says:

    Reblogged this on quantum shifting and commented:
    Yes, absolutely, time for the sciences of uncertainty.

  2. Vasco Duarte Says:

    Awesome post, like always. I’m reminded of my own story when at a conference (which you keynoted: #LESS2012) we sat together and came up with an idea: tackle the complexity of management with funny t-shirts. In 2 months we started a business (www.RandomManager.com) with a team distributed all over Europe.

    Think about it: cotton produced all over the world, t-shirts manufactured all over the world, printed in Europe (several countries) and finally shipped to the final customer. This whole value chain is enabled by the Internet.

    This would not have been possible without the Internet. Our business if fully Internet-centric: we don’t hold any inventory, we don’t print the t-shirts, we just create the idea and the content and use the Internet to get everything done, from selecting t-shirts to printing to shipping and lastly to interview our customers.

    We also find our customers almost solely through the Internet (thanks to Google).

    This is a very concrete business that exists only because of, and thanks to the Internet.

    Although this is a “mum-and-pop” shop it has no physical location, it exists in the ether, in the Internet (and hopefully in our customer’s minds).


  3. […] In response to the event, complexity theorist Esko Kilpi tweeted, “It is time for the science of uncertainty in management.”  In an essay titled “Complexity, Patterns and Links,” Kilpi writes “Complexity refers to a pattern, a movement in time that is at the same time predictable and unpredictable, knowable and unknowable. Healthy, ordinary, everyday life is always complex, no matter what the situation is. There is absolutely no linearity in the world of human beings.”  http://eskokilpi.blogging.fi/2012/03/27/complexity-and-links-2/ […]


  4. […] her 2012 essay titled “Complexity, Patterns, and Links,” Kilpi […]


  5. […] his 2012 essay titled “Complexity, Patterns, and Links,” Kilpi […]


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