Theories of non-linear systems : a paradigm for organizational thinking

Myburgh, Roche Francois (2003-12)

Thesis (MA)--Stellenbosch University, 2003.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: The advent of the computer age has seen many fundamental changes in the economics. The ease with which organisations can store and transmit information in unprecedented quantities and speeds has changed the face of the economy as well as the way in which organisations conduct their day to day operations. Information has become the primary resource for organisational competitiveness and this has seen an increasing drive for efficient information generation and management in an economy that is interconnected on a global scale. The demand for better information management practices is driven by the realisation that the global economy is susceptible to sudden and unpredictable changes that can potentially have global consequences. The more information organisations have at their disposal, the better their chances are of remaining competitive and relevant in the global economy. The informational economy confronts organisations with two very significant problems, the first is information overload due to the sheer volume of information that is available to them. The second problem is that despite the volume of available information organisations still are not privy to all the information that is required to lessen the impact of uncertainty that is so characteristic of the global economy. Organisations therefore always run the' risk of becoming irrelevant if they do not change constantly. This drive for continuous change and the dependence on information has led some organisational theorists and economists to compare the global economy and organisations to nonlinear systems found in nature. Examples of nonlinear systems are living organisms, ecologies and solar systems. All of these systems are characterised by high levels of interconnectedness and interdependence among individual units within a shared environment, which they co-create. Nonlinear systems are of particular interest to organisational theorists because these systems process information about the environment to adapt in an unpredictable way to unpredictable changes. Such systems are incredibly resilient because they are able to learn and adapt to different conditions. Another notable aspect of nonlinear systems is the clear structured and complex organisation that they exhibit in the absence of centralised control mechanisms. Every unit has the liberty to experiment with new designs and from the success of individual units an organised and stable system emerges with a strong link between the success of individuals and the whole system. The order that exists within nonlinear systems is known as self-organisation because it is not superimposed but emerges instead in a spontaneous manner. Nonlinear systems are therefore more than just the sum of their parts. The notion of nonlinear systems and self-organisation has seen authors such as Stacey, Wheatley and Senge develop new ideas about organisational development, leadership and organisational strategic thinking. Their ideas are based on what is popularly known as 'The New Science'. These ideas attempt to encourage organisations realise that the global economy functions as a nonlinear system and that organisations stand a better chance of success if they learn to understand the principles of nonlinear systems and to utilise the inherent creative and organising characteristics of such systems.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Die aanvang van die rekenaar era het verskeie fundamentele veranderinge in ekonomie mee gebring. Die gemak en snelheid waarmee organisasies informasie kan stoor en versprei is ongekend en het terselfde tyd die voorkoms van die ekonomie verander asook die wyse waarop organisasies op 'n daaglikse basis funksioneer. Informasie het die belangrikste hulpbron geword vir organisasies in terme van kompetering en dit het 'n groter dryfkrag vir doeltreffende informasie ontginning en bestuur mee gebring in 'n ekonomie wat op 'n wereldwye skaal in mekaar gevleg is. Die aanvraag vir beter informasie bestuur praktyke word gedryf deur die wete dat die wereld ekonomie vatbaar is vir skielike en onvoorspelbare veranderinge wat potensieel 'n wereldwye impak kan he. Hoe meer informasie organisasies tot hul beskikking het hoe beter is hul kans om relevant en kompeterend te bly in die wereld ekonomie. Die informasie ekonomie konfronteer organisasies met twee fundamentele probleme. Die eerste gevaar is dat organisasies oorlaai kan word met informasie as gevolg van die absolute volume van beskikbare informasie. Die tweede probleem spruit voort uit die feit dat ten spyte van die beskikbare informasie, lei organisasies steeds aan 'n gebrek aan algehele informasie, organisasies kan dus nooit toegang he tot al die informasie wat benodig word om die impak te verminder van die onsekerheid wat so kenmerkend is van die wereld ekonomie. Organisasies loop dus altyd die gevaar om irrelevant te raak as hulle nie konstant aanpas by nuwe omstandighede nie. Hierdie soeke na konstante verandering en die afhanklikheid op informasie het verskeie organisasie teoretici en ekonome daartoe gelei om 'n vergelyking te tref tussen die wereld ekonomie en organisasies aan die een kant en nie-Iiniere sisteme wat in die natuur voorkom. Voorbeelde van sulke sisteme sluit lewende organismes, ekostelsels en sterre stelsels in. Die komponente van al hierdie sisteme is op 'n komplekse wyse inmekaar geweef en interafhanklik op mekaar binne die raamwerk van gemeenskaplike omgewing waarvoor hierdie komponente mede verantwoordelik is. Nie-liniere sisteme is van besondere belang vir organisasie teoretici omdat die betrokke sisteme informasie verwerk aangaande hul omgewing om op 'n onvoorspelbare wyse aan te pas by onvoorspelbare veranderinge in die omgewing. Sulke sisteme is uitsonderlik standvastig deurdat hulle kan leer en aanpas by verskillende omstandighede. Nog 'n merkbare aspek van sulke sisteme is die duidelik gestruktureerde en komplekse organisasie wat bestaan ten spyte van 'n algehele gebrek aan gesentraliseerde beheer meganismes. Elke komponent is vry om met 'n nuwe ontwerp te eksperimenteer en vanuit die sukses van die komponente spruit die sukses van die sisteem. Die organisasie wat sigbaar is in nie-liniere sisteme staan bekend as self-organisasie omdat dit nie voortspruit uit 'n sentrale beheer meganisme nie maar instede spontaan onstaan as 'n gevolg van die aksies van komponente. Nie-Iiniere sisteme het die potensiaal om meer te kan wees as die somtotaal van hul komponente. Die beginsel van nie-liniere sisteme en selforganisasie het skrywers soos Stacey, Wheatley en Senge daartoe gelei om nuwe idees te ontwikkel rakende organisasie ontwikkeling, leierskap en strategiese beplanning in organisasies. Hierdie idees is gegrond in wat algemeen bekend staan as 'The New Science'. Die idees van hierdie skrywers is gemik daarop om organisasies aan te moedig om raak te sien dat die wereld ekonomie soos 'n nie-liniere sisteem funksioneer en dat organisasies as sulks 'n beter kans staan om sukses te behaal as hulle sou leer om die beginsels van nie-liniere sisteme te begryp en die inherente kreatiewe en organiserings eienskappe van sulke sisteme uit te buit.

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