When I first learned about self-organizing systems, fractals, and the like, it struck me as the answer to a great many unexplained trends in organizational life, not to mention my family dynamics and personal experience.
I spent the next few years reading, theorizing, and learning about it.
I asked questions.
I also became so steeped in technical details and jargon that I missed the point.
Complexity theory teaches us (among other things) to look for patterns that repeat in big and small ways in open systems.
Fractals (these kinds of patterns) in nature and in organizational behavior tell us a lot about what’s going on underneath the surface.
They tell us what a system is “like,” how to make an educated guess at the kinds of behaviors we might anticipate going forward.
While I love to dive into the literature and swim around in detailed explanations, this sort of tactical, zoomed-in approach misses the point. To understand the nature of any open system we have only to look for patterns that repeat on multiple scales. We must zoom in and out as we ask ourselves this question.
"What do I see happening in big and small ways here?"
An intuitive understanding is sufficient to start one on the path toward understanding how the world unfolds, to begin looking for patterns within and across contexts, and to start making sense of otherwise overwhelming situations.
Like anything, you can make it as …well… complex as you want!
But to make use of complexity theory's insights on some level requires only the simplest understanding.
The hard work has been done by a litany of scholars from all over the world. They will continue to do the "heavy lifting," but for most of us to benefit, the starting point is simply becoming aware of patterns in the world, to include how people interact.
It's strong medicine and a small dose has a mighty effect!
WARNING: The simplest understanding of organizational complexity is often so profound that you will find yourself in the library checking out a stack of books!
That’s what happened to me– and it still does.
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