Harnessing Complexity: Organizational Implications of a Scientific Frontier

Robert Axelrod, Author, Michael D. Cohen, Author, Michael D. Cohen, Joint Author Free Press $26 (208p) ISBN 978-0-684-86717-5
In a world where companies are forced to adapt to an ever more quickly changing marketplace, where people from diverse backgrounds must work together in order to solve problems rapidly and the future is hard to predict, wouldn't it be wonderful if all this complexity could work to your advantage? Axelrod (The Evolution of the Corporation) and Cohen (a consultant to the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center), both professors at the University of Michigan, aim to draw on the principles of evolutionary biology, computer science and social design to explain the functioning of ""complex adaptive systems"" (specifically businesses), and how to improve them. They explore such abstract issues as whether to encourage variation in a rapidly changing situation (whether it refers to a diversity of products or problem-solving approaches, variety is defined as ""the raw material for adaptation""); the impact of manipulating interactions (with respect to time as well as both physical and conceptual space) in an organization; and how to select and support the most viable individuals, teams, systems or business strategies that emerge. Although their schematic approach and well-drawn anecdotal examples yield pragmatic insights, Axelrod and Cohen rely on somewhat idiosyncratic terminology to make their key points: ""Agents of a variety of types use their strategies in patterned interaction, with each other and with artifacts"" (authors' emphasis). While most managers are aware of complexity theory and are eager to learn how to adapt it to their organizations, some may be put off by the convoluted language used here. Agent, Raphael Sagalyn. (May)
Reviewed on: 05/01/2000
Release date: 05/01/2000
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 208 pages - 978-0-465-00550-5
Open Ebook - 208 pages - 978-0-7867-2344-7
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