Systemic Practice and Action Research

, Volume 12, Issue 3, pp 295–309

Knowing and Acting in Conditions of Uncertainty: A Complexity Perspective

  • Douglas Griffin
  • Patricia Shaw
  • Ralph Stacey


As practitioners working with groups and organizations, we have reflected together on what we think is happening when we find ourselves acting into situations in which the intention motivating the action as its goal is itself emerging in the very action. Along with others, we have been excited by the ideas of self-organization in the natural sciences and also theories of practice, for example, tacit and explicit knowledge, in the social sciences. Together, these promise fresh insights into the potential of organizations. However, we find ourselves diverging significantly from writers who at first sight seem to be using similar ideas, but they do so with an exclusive focus on strategic choice and intention. To illustrate what we mean, we explore the work of Nonaka and Takeuchi and how they use Polanyi's idea of the participant observer. We do this to identify contradictions we see in their approach. We also discuss the implications of an alternative understanding of participation and what this indicates about what can and cannot be “managed” in the creation of new knowledge.

complexity tacit knowledge explicit knowledge group matrix management 


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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Douglas Griffin
    • 1
  • Patricia Shaw
    • 1
  • Ralph Stacey
    • 1
  1. 1.Complexity and Management CentreUniversity of HertfordshireHertfordshireUK

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