The Complexity Perspective and Innovation

Stacey (2007) described how structure emerged from apparent chaos through positive and negative feedback. Out of chaos a new order emerged. in the iCT ecosystem, product failures and chaos are learning experiences that eventually yield successful products and new platforms. Therefore, a certain amount of chaos in the business environment can be productive in terms of innovation. If we follow this prescription, the task of strategic managers seeking productive innovation is to keep the organisation operating on the ‘edge of chaos’ without tipping over the edge into actual chaos. At the edge of chaos, there is sufficient cohesion to keep the organisation operating in a broad general strategic direction, with the inclusion of enough chaos or variation to foster innovation. Pascale et al. (2001) actually argued that innovation was born at the nexus of stability and chaos.

Pascale et al. (2001) also recommended that managers should foster effective innovation through complex adaptive processes such as selforganisation and advocating looser structures in turbulent environments. This is often a problem for conventional managers who see this as ‘relinquishing control’. The traditional concept of control is associated with negative feedback. In some areas of a business this is entirely appropriate since costs may need to be controlled. Even Apple and Google have to cull unsuccessful projects i.e. the Newton PDA and Google Glass. However, in other areas attempts to exercise tight control over activities can be counter-productive because they stifle innovation. This is why Google has a system known as 20 percent time where employees are allowed one day a week to work on their own projects.

There is an important distinction to be made between tight control and coordination. For example, complexity thinking suggests that effective managers allow the maximum degree of freedom or autonomy possible in any given situation. They seek to coordinate activities without compromising essential bottom line areas such as budgets where control is necessary. In terms of complexity thinking this is important because control is a stabilising influence which pushes the system towards the mechanistic end of the spectrum in Table 3.2. In turbulent environments, organisations that are too stable stagnate and are unable to adapt to the changes around them. Complexity, however, runs counter to what happens in turbulent times. Frequently, managers in organisations experiencing turbulence become more bureaucratic and controlling. Complexity suggests that by doing this they can stifle the development of those behaviours that could enable the organisation to prosper and thrive.

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