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Perspective: Complexity Theory and Organization Science


  • Philip Anderson

    (Amos Tuck School, Dartmouth College, Hanover New Hampshire 03755-9000)


Complex organizations exhibit surprising, nonlinear behavior. Although organization scientists have studied complex organizations for many years, a developing set of conceptual and computational tools makes possible new approaches to modeling nonlinear interactions within and between organizations. Complex adaptive system models represent a genuinely new way of simplifying the complex. They are characterized by four key elements: agents with schemata, self-organizing networks sustained by importing energy, coevolution to the edge of chaos, and system evolution based on recombination. New types of models that incorporate these elements will push organization science forward by merging empirical observation with computational agent-based simulation. Applying complex adaptive systems models to strategic management leads to an emphasis on building systems that can rapidly evolve effective adaptive solutions. Strategic direction of complex organizations consists of establishing and modifying environments within which effective, improvised, self-organized solutions can evolve. Managers influence strategic behavior by altering the fitness landscape for local agents and reconfiguring the organizational architecture within which agents adapt.

Suggested Citation

  • Philip Anderson, 1999. "Perspective: Complexity Theory and Organization Science," Organization Science, INFORMS, vol. 10(3), pages 216-232, June.
  • Handle: RePEc:inm:ororsc:v:10:y:1999:i:3:p:216-232
    DOI: 10.1287/orsc.10.3.216

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    References listed on IDEAS

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