Organisational Values as 'Attractors of Chaos': An Emerging Cultural Change to Manage Organisational Complexity
UPF Economics Working Paper No. 485
16 Pages Posted: 11 Sep 2000
Date Written: June 2000
Business organisations are excellent representations of what in physics and mathematics are designated "chaotic" systems. Because a culture of innovation will be vital for organisational survival in the 21st century, the present paper proposes that viewing organisations in terms of "complexity theory" may assist leaders in fine-tuning managerial philosophies that provide orderly management emphasizing stability within a culture of organised chaos, for it is on the "boundary of chaos" that the greatest creativity occurs. It is argued that 21st century companies, as chaotic social systems, will no longer be effectively managed by rigid objectives (MBO) nor by instructions (MBI). Their capacity for self-organisation will be derived essentially from how their members accept a shared set of values or principles for action (MBV). Complexity theory deals with systems that show complex structures in time or space, often hiding simple deterministic rules. This theory holds that once these rules are found, it is possible to make effective predictions and even to control the apparent complexity. The state of chaos that self-organises, thanks to the appearance of the "strange attractor", is the ideal basis for creativity and innovation in the company. In this self-organised state of chaos, members are not confined to narrow roles, and gradually develop their capacity for differentiation and relationships, growing continuously toward their maximum potential contribution to the efficiency of the organisation. In this way, values act as organisers or "attractors" of disorder, which in the theory of chaos are equations represented by unusually regular geometric configurations that predict the long-term behaviour of complex systems. In business organisations (as in all kinds of social systems) the starting principles end up as the final principles in the long term. An attractor is a model representation of the behavioral results of a system. The attractor is not a force of attraction or a goal-oriented presence in the system; it simply depicts where the system is headed based on its rules of motion. Thus, in a culture that cultivates or shares values of autonomy, responsibility, independence, innovation, creativity, and proaction, the risk of short-term chaos is mitigated by an overall long-term sense of direction. A more suitable approach to manage the internal and external complexities that organisations are currently confronting is to alter their dominant culture under the principles of MBV.
Keywords: Managing chaos, managing change, managing by values.
JEL Classification: D23, M14, O33
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation