In this chapter Kevin Dooley questions the assumptions common among many of those who apply complexity theory to organizations—that self-organization is “good,” for instance—and suggests that some of the most fruitful uses of complexity principles may lie in innovative interpretations of these ideas.
This chapter will lay out some assumptions that are often made that, according to the science, are incorrect. For example, because we have found that a few simple rules can generate complex behavior, there has been an automatic assumption that all of human behavior, since it is obviously complex, must be based on a few simple rules. That is true along some dimensions. We can look at certain behavior, like how humans behave in traffic, or along certain dimensions of organizational life, for instance Tim Haslett’s work on how postal office workers behave in terms of pacing their work because of compensation schemes. However, I would say that the meat of organizational life, people’s muddling along through conversations and discourse and so on, cannot necessarily be described by a few simple rules.
Second, a value judgment is often made that self-organization is good. Self-organization is not good. Self-organization is not bad. Self-