An Introduction to Complexity Theory
What it is, what it replaces, and why it’s important.
Complexity Theory allows us to better understand systems as diverse as cells, human beings, forest ecosystems, and organizations, that are only partially understood by traditional scientific methods (Zimmerman et al. 2001). While it represents a relatively nascent field of study, it spans across a wide variety of disciplines in the physical, biological, and social sciences, and has profound implications for the way we think about and act within the world (Schneider & Somers, 2006).
This is especially important in the study of organizations, organizational change, and leadership, where complexity theory can offer insights into how organizations become more sustainable, adaptive, and innovative (Uhl-Bien et al., 2007). In the following sections, we will examine the origins of the mechanical, bureaucratic paradigms of organizations and leadership, the development of complexity science, and the implications that a paradigm shift from the former to the latter has on the study and leadership of organizations.
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