Nonlinear Dynamics, Psychology, and Life Sciences

, Volume 1, Issue 1, pp 69-97

First online:

A Complex Adaptive Systems Model of Organization Change

  • Kevin J. DooleyAffiliated withDepartment of Mechanical Engineering, University of Minnesota

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The study of complex adaptive systems has yielded great insight into how complex, organic-like structures can evolve order and purpose over time. Business organizations, typified by semi-autonomous organizational members interacting at many levels of cognition and action, can be portrayed by the generic constructs and driving mechanisms of complex adaptive systems theory. The purpose of this paper is to forge a unified description of complex adaptive systems from several sources, and then investigate the issue of change in a business organization via the framework of complex adaptive systems. The theory of complex adaptive systems uses components from three paradigms of management thought: systems theory, population ecology, and information processing. Specific propositions regarding the nature of dynamical change will be developed, driven by the complex adaptive systems model. Supporting evidence for these propositions is then sought within the existing management theory literature. In doing so, the complex adaptive systems approach to understanding organization change will be better grounded in domain-specific theory, and new insights and research areas will come to light.

organization development management agents schema organization learning