Re: Is speed/technology really progress? LO138

Mariann Jelinek (
Thu, 16 Feb 1995 22:20:30 -0500

Tobin Querear wrote in LO24:
>I had one hesitation, however, in associating "complexity" and survival in
>a business or organizational sense. Some of the most "complex"
>corporations are finding it absolutely necessary to "simplify" in order to
>survive these days. Perhaps what Csikzentmihalyi is pointing to is not
>"complexity" (i.e. bureaucracy and size) in and of itself, but more of an
>"openess and engagement" with a wider range of external and internal

"Complexity" as "bureaucracy and size" is, IMHO, a definitional
problem, not a state of nature. Bureaucracy deals very poorly with real
complexity, as the present siege of old (bureaucratic, established, big)
firms by more nimble challengers demonstrates. The underlying
organizational problem is that organizations must comprise sufficient
requisite variety (Ashby's term, of course) to contend with the
environment around them, while "bureaucracies" substitute simplifying
rules, instead. Real organizational "complexity" in Ashby-like terms would
appear to be genuine internal variety potential: i.e., lots of distributed
brainpower turned to thinking jointly about the changing environment. In
other words, "thin" structures as regards rules, etc., but strong
coordinative agreement and empowerment. By contrast, the limited
brainpower (focused and centralized) in bureaucracy gets overwhelmed
because it is quite insufficient to the challenges that face it.


Mariann Jelinek
Richard C. Kraemer Professor of Business
Graduate School of Business,
College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, VA 23185

Tel. (804) 221-2882 FAX: (804) 229-6135