Complexity & Org Science LO11875 -CFP

Debra Kosemetzky (
Mon, 13 Jan 1997 14:33:44 -0500 (EST)

If anyone on this list is interested in complexity theory and
organizations this may be of interest to you. Personally, I believe that
learning is a natural response to an organization's change process.

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From: Kathleen.Carley@CENTRO.SOAR.CS.CMU.EDU
Date: Thu, 9 Jan 97 17:09:41 EST


Organization Science is pleased to announce a call for papers for a
special issue on the applications of complexity theory to organization
science. Co-Editors will be Philip Anderson, Kathleen Carley, Kathleen
Eisenhardt, Alan Meyer, and Andrew Pettigrew. The idea for this issue
emerged from discussions at the 1996 Organization Science Winter

"Complex organizations" has been an important arena in organizational
studies for decades. Historically, organizational scholars have examined
vertical complexity (the number of levels in a hierarchy), horizontal
complexity (the number of differentiated departments), and spatial
complexity (the geographic dispersion of organizational subunits).
Organizational environments have also been characterized as more or less
complex depending on how heterogeneous and dispersed resources are within

However, a different view of complexity is emerging that may have
important implications for organizational scholarship. Within the past
decade, interest in the "sciences of complexity" has increased
dramatically. The study of complex system dynamics has perhaps progressed
furthest in the natural sciences, but it is also beginning to penetrate
the social sciences. This interdisciplinary field of study is still
pre-paradigmatic, and it embraces a wide variety of approaches. Although
it is not yet clear whether a genuine science of complexity will emerge,
it does seem clear that scholars in a variety of fields are viewing
complexity in a different way than organizational scholars traditionally

A number of findings now seem fairly well-established, including the

* Many dynamic systems do not reach an equilibrium (either a fixed
point or a cyclical equilibrium).
* Processes that appear to be random may actually be chaotic, in
other words may revolve around identifiable types of "attractors."
Tests exist that can detect whether apparently random processes are
in fact chaotic.
* Two entities with very similar initial states can follow radically
divergent paths over time. The behavior of complex processes can be
quite sensitive to small differences in initial conditions. This can
lead to highly path-dependent behavior, and historical accidents may
"tip" outcomes strongly in a particular direction.
* Very complex patterns can arise from the interaction of agents
following relatively simple rules. These patterns are "emergent"
in the sense that new properties appear at each level in a hierarchy.
* Complex systems may resist reductionist analyses. In other words,
it may not be possible to describe some systems simply by holding
some of their subsystems constant in order to study other subsystems.
* Time series that appear to be random walks may actually be fractals
with self-reinforcing trends. In such cases we may observe a "hand
of the past" in operation.
* Complex systems may tend to exhibit "self-organizing" behavior.
Starting in a random state, they may naturally evolve toward order
instead of disorder.

The most interesting research into complex systems sheds fresh light on
nonlinear dynamics, which usually evolve from interactions among agents.
Organizational scholars seldom come to grips with nonlinear phenomena.
Instead, we tend to model phenomena as if they were linear in order to
make them tractable, and we tend to model aggregate behavior as if it is
produced by individual entities which all exhibit average behavior.
Understanding complex processes may also require a shift from studying
sequential processes to studying simultaneous or parallel processes. At
this juncture, organizational researchers have few templates that suggest
to them how to hypothesize about or model such behavior. It is difficult
to know how to draw a conceptual model and how to report the results of
empirical inquiries into complex organizational phenomena. The special
issue aims to provide scholars with useful templates to follow when
analyzing complex processes that involve organizations.

Although studies of complex systems in other disciplines are often very
sophisticated technically, the special issue is not intended to be a
methods forum. Appropriate manuscripts will examine some aspect of
complexity as it applies to organizations. The editors are not receptive
to papers that simply assert that a particular phenomenon is complex or
nonlinear, or which merely call for scholars to take a different view of
the world. We consider the stylized facts listed above to be
well-established, and are not looking for papers that merely suggest these
ideas apply to organizations as well. The question of interest is how
ideas that arise from studying complex systems can add to what we know
about organizations. Examples of appropriate topics might include, but
certainly are not limited to, the following:

* Research that specifies plausible sources of hidden order in apparently
random processes that occur within or among organizations. Can we
illuminate how that which appears random is actually ordered but in
complex ways? Such insights are particularly interesting if they
generate testable implications.
* Research that explains how simple organizational processes become
complex ones. At what point do behaviors that are individually
well-understood interact in ways that create difficult-to-understand
aggregate outcomes? What are the consequences of rising complexity
in this sense?
* Research that compares several plausible rule sets for a group of
interacting agents, and shows that behavior we observe in organiza-
tions can be produced by one model of interactions but not by others.
* Research that simultaneously explores processes unfolding across
multiple layers of context (e.g., economies, industries, and firms).
What dynamics distinguish such processes, and how do they interrelate?
* Research addressing such topics as innovation and change, power and
conflict, or crisis and reorientation may be particularly appropriate
for the special issue.

A list of useful books and articles addressing complexity theory may be
found at the INFORMS College on Organization Science's Word Wide Web site: Prospective contributors wishing further
information may contact Philip Anderson (,
Kathleen Carley (Kathleen.Carley@CENTRO.SOAR.CS.CMU.EDU), Kathleen
Eisenhardt (, Alan Meyer
(, or Andrew Pettigrew

Please send six copies of the manuscript to:
Professor Arie Y. Lewin, Organization Science Editor-in-Chief
The Fuqua School of Business, Duke University, Box 90120
Durham, North Carolina 27708-0120

In preparing manuscripts, authors should follow OS requirements as
specified in "Instructions to Authors." Cover letters should request that
papers be considered for the special issue on complexity and nominate an
appropriate Co-Editor. Five copies should be sent to Professor Arie
Lewin, OS Editor-in-Chief, The Fuqua School of Business, Duke University,
Durham, North Carolina 27708-0120. Papers must be received no later than
July 1, 1997. All submissions will be blind reviewed in accord with the
usual OS review process.

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Debra Kosemetzky <>

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