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Surfing the Edge of Chaos: The Laws of Nature and the New Laws of Business Paperback – December 26, 2001


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Crown Business; Reprint edition (December 26, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0609808834
  • ISBN-13: 978-0609808832
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.2 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #199,490 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this breakthrough business book, Pascale, Millemann and Gioja troll the emerging science of complexity for "ideas [that] can produce a concrete bottom-line impact." Extracting key "dynamics of survival" from the life sciences, these three management consultants successfully show business leaders how to turn their companies into agile and adaptable "living systems" that achieve long-term vitality and sustainability in a swiftly evolving environment. Their four "bedrock" principles are "Equilibrium is a precursor to death"; "Living things move toward the edge of chaos"; "Components of living systems self-organize" in response to turmoil; and "Living systems cannot be directed along a linear path." Writing with clarity and verve, the authors illustrate these larger points by comparing the functioning of organic systems (e.g., Yellowstone National Park), the behavior of organisms (dental plaque) and of insects (fire ants) with detailed case studies of five companies (British Petroleum, Hewlett-Packard, Monsanto, Royal Dutch/Shell and Sun Microsystems) and the U.S. Army. Practical-minded readers will appreciate their nitty-gritty insights into the relative advantages of "adaptive" and traditional "operational" leadership, as well as their consistent distillation of concrete business guidelines. While the authors aver that "there is no permanent victory in this eternal cycle of life and death," they make a persuasive case that "understanding living systems does not decisively win the game but, most assuredly, it improves the odds." (Nov. 1)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"Great storytelling, experience-based insight, and effortless prose convey a compelling message: Leading the talent-driven, distributed enterprise is the management challenge of the knowledge economy. The answers lie in complexity science, which provides relevant insights into the workings of living systems. Surfing the Edge of Chaos is the Rosetta stone, translating between real-world problems and exciting, illuminating theory. Pascale, Millemann and Gioja have at last made practical the idea of organization as organism."
-- Christopher Meyer, Director, The Cap Gemini Ernst & Young Center for Business Innovation, and author of BLUR: The Speed of Change in the Connected Economy and Future Wealth

"Surfing the Edge of Chaos is a breakthrough book, achingly relevant for the New Millennium, by synthesizing new developments from the life sciences, social sciences, and physical sciences into an exciting framework that will help organizations and their leaders thrive and revitalize themselves in this post-modern, hypo-turbulent era. It has the added advantage of rendering subtle and complex ideas into readable prose by refracting the ideas through the prism of real-life organizations. This book will be must reading for any serious executive or student of organizational change."
-- Warren Bennis, University Professor and Founding Chairman of the Leadership Institute, University of Southern California, and author of Managing the Dream

"Surfing the Edge of Chaos is an action plan for bringing organizations to life and life to organizations. An organization is a living system that must adapt to a changing environment -- the same as species in nature. Thinking of a company as a 'well-oiled machine' or of yourself as a cog in that machine is a recipe for extinction. Richard Pascale, Mark Millemann, and Linda Gioja provide exciting new ways to think about the professional and personal challenges everyone faces today."
-- Prof. Gary Hamel, author of Leading the Revolution and coauthor of Competing for the Future; Visiting Professor, London Business School; and Chairman of Strategos

"Grounded in both theory and practice, Surfing the Edge of Chaos helps any manager facing change to replace equilibrium and the status quo with innovation and self-renewal. The links drawn between the world of nature and the world of business form a particularly rich source of ideas for turning complexity and chaos into resolve and results."
-- Dave Ulrich, Professor of Business, University of Michigan, and author of Results-Based Leadership --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 26 people found the following review helpful By J. Michael Gallipo on March 1, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Surfing the Edge of Chaos does a marvelous job of taking many of the ideas being developed in complexity theory and applying them to the business world. In contrast say to Garrett Ralls who tried to do much the same thing, this book succeeds. I found myself continually thinking about not only the examples they provide, but also on my own work experiences and other companies that I have analyzed.
The authors do an excellent job of contrasting their approach (adaptive leadership) with more traditional reorganization (operational leadership). But refreshingly, they also acknowledge that in some cases, the more traditional approach might be more appropriate. There are many interesting concepts being developed by complexity theorists and this book manages to capture many, if not most, of them.
They show repeatedly the need to increase the stress on an organization in order to break past patterns of behavior. Their use of fitness landscapes (the idea that a successful company rests on a peak, and that in order to reach a new higher peak, often you must go down into the valley) is very powerful and at least partially explains why so many successful companies subsequently struggle, or fail, to adapt. Importantly though, the authors also spend a great deal of time talking about the unintended (or second and third order) effects of change. The point is not that you will be able to predict all of them (which is what chaos theory explicity says you cannot do), but rather that you must be flexible enough to roll with those unanticipated consequences.
Does that mean that every idea in this book is new? Of course not, but to be successful, a new theory often must combine the old with the new.
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18 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Glenn A. Carleton on January 28, 2001
Format: Hardcover
In the process of reading a number of related books on chaos and complex adaptive systems, Surfing in the Edge is one on my current list. It compliments well other readings, and in many cases quotes meaningfully from them (e.g., Haeckel's - Adaptive Enterprises; Kelly - New Rules for the New Economy; McMaster - Intelligence Advantage).
I found this book an easy read, constantly underlining sentences and putting the book down to reflect on what was said and my own past experiences. I could see why my past approaches to management and motivation (especially reward systems which the book discusses in depth), described here as being used even by management considered open and progressive, was not successful, or if successful, not sustainable.
Anyone looking for specific answers on what organizational approaches should be used to take advantage of the concepts behind chaos should perhaps focus on this book's emphasis of things being messy, emerging in ways we cannot predict, and the experience of generating change not being straight forward (Herding Butterflies). If one can have faith that in the designed sloppiness, good things can be emerging, that faith could help one and other true believers stay the course without returning to command-and-control methods. It takes a whole new mindset to create the kind of change described in this book, and it takes a degree of critical mass in gaining converts who will in good faith implement the precepts over what could be a long period of time. The need for patience is well explained in the book.
The book is clearly not into the biology view of allowing just anything to emerge on its own.
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32 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 20, 2000
Format: Hardcover
"'Living systems' isn't a metaphor for how human institutions operate. It's the way it is." The book is built on this point. Living systems work much more rapidly and effectively than most human ones do. By using the most successful living systems as models, we can make great strides in improving our human organizations. Think of this as a best practice book based on the ants and the bees.
Surfing the Edge of Chaos is an unusually good book on applying the lessons of complexity science about the biological world to business progress. The material is aimed at continuous renewal of the large existing organization, but will be valuable to organizations of all ages and sizes. The explanations of the key principles are well documented with many interesting animal and business examples. Based on experience by the authors as advisors to most of the businesses cited, the stories have a depth and a resonance that is missing in many books about how to apply the lessons of "complex adaptive systems" to human organizations.
The book also strongly and effectively challenges the existing engineering and reengineering models of how to improve organizations. If you are about to put a lot of effort into these areas, hold up until you have a chance to read this book. You may well change your mind.
Many people tell me that they still do not understand what they need to do in order to apply the lessons of complexity science to their business after reading books on this subject. Few will have that problem after reading this excellent work.
The authors help make the transition between the mechanical model of organizations to a biological one by synthesizing four new principles:
(1) "Equilibrium is a precursor to death.
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