The Role of Complexity Theory as an Approach to Strategy

Complexity is a relatively recent perspective in strategy literature and draws on insights from ‘complexity science’ which originated in the 1960s as an interdisciplinary approach to understanding complex systems such as those found in the natural world and applies them to strategic thinking and strategic management problems. This provides a new perspective that contrasts with traditional models of strategy, as the dynamics driving the change in complex systems are not the same as those advocated by classical Newtonian science. In fact, complexity theorists offer insights into an understanding of the nature of change itself which are different from the perspectives covered in Chapters 1 and 2.

In the 1990s, one of the most prominent proponents of complexity theory and its application to the field of strategy was Ralph Stacey (2007) who began to draw attention to this new perspective. At this point in time complexity was portrayed as an alternative paradigm to rational models of strategy because complexity theorists did not think in terms of cause and effect but in terms of interconnections and interdependencies and sought to understand patterns rather than causes (Pascale 1999). However, more recently, complexity has been viewed as complementing established strategy perspectives by addressing issues that have been neglected or ignored in traditional thinking.

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