Bounded Rationality and the Search for Organizational Architecture: An Evolutionary Perspective on the Design of Organizations and Their Evolvability
58 Pages Posted: 15 Oct 2004
The problem of designing, managing, and coordinating the efforts of different parts of complex organizations is central to the management and organizations literature. A central element, in turn, of Simon's (1962) argument, which provides a foundation for understanding complex organizations, is that the fundamental properties of complex systems are hierarchy and near-decomposability. These dual properties are argued to enhance the evolvability of such systems. A critical question, however, is whether boundedly rational managers will be able to identify and uncover some true, latent structure of hierarchy and decomposability. This question is intimately related to broader issues of concern to organization theory including the usefulness and value of design efforts and the implications of organizational change processes. In an effort to unite Simon's ideas about complexity with mainstream organization theory, we address three research questions: (1) how does the architecture or structure of complexity affect the feasibility and usefulness of boundedly rational design efforts; (2) do efforts to adapt in the space of organizational forms complicate or complement the effectiveness of first-order change efforts; (3) to what extent does the rate of environmental change nullify the usefulness of design efforts. We employ a computational model of organizational adaptation to examine these questions. Our results, in identifying the boundary conditions around successful design efforts, suggest that the underlying architecture of complexity of organizations, particularly the presence of hierarchy, is a critical determinant of the feasibility and effectiveness of design efforts. We also find that design efforts are generally complementary to efforts at local performance improvement and identify specific contingencies that determine that extent of complementarity. We discuss the implications of our findings for organization theory and design and also the burgeoning literature on modularity in products and organizations.
Keywords: Complex systems, Organization design, Modularity
JEL Classification: D21, D23, L20
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation
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