In this chapter Dan Levinthal discusses how complexity theories enable researchers to model systems without God-like knowledge of them, thereby allowing for the irrationality that is integral to human systems.
I want to raise only a couple of points. First, it may be useful in trying to understand the possible future of complexity theory in management research to consider the fate of a prior effort at importing a general mathematical framework—that of general systems theory in the late 1950s and early 1960s. These efforts were received with considerable enthusiasm in some quarters of the economics and management professions. However, I suspect that the ultimate fate of these modeling efforts would have disappointed their early adherents. Does the failure of this earlier effort at modeling the interactions of complex systems have similar ominous implications for the current enthusiasms for modeling complex systems?
I think that there are some important distinctions between the two initiatives that give some basis of hope for the more contemporary efforts at modeling complex systems, but the lessons from the past also suggest some dangers. One of the failures of the early social systems work was its inability to fully connect to the usual social science agenda of normal