Embracing Complexity: Strategic Perspectives for an Age of Turbulence 1st Edition
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About the Author
Jean G. Boulton, Visiting Fellow, Cranfield School of Management and Director, Claremont Management Consultants Ltd,Peter M. Allen, Emeritus Professor, Cranfield University,Cliff Bowman, Professor of Strategic Management, Cranfield University
Jean Boulton is a director, strategy consultant and part-time academic at both Bath and Cranfield universities. She teaches, consults, researches and writes about the implications of complexity thinking to management, research and policy development. She has been Chair of Sustain Ltd, Chair of Social Action for Health, a non-executive director of IOPP and Head of Engineering Operations for BAe Commercial Aircraft. She was previously a Senior Lecturer at Cranfield School of Management. She has consulted many blue chip companies and charities including Carillion, RBS, ICI, Lloyds TSB and Oxfam. Her background in theoretical physics coupled with her practical engagement in the fields of management and social research - both through academia, consulting, hands-on management and working as a director and trustee - give her a multi-faceted, informed and practical perspective on the implications of embracing complexity.
Peter Allen developed and ran the Complex Systems Research Centre in the School of Management at Cranfield University since the late 1990s. He has a Ph.D. in Theoretical Physics and from 1970 to 1987 worked with Professor Ilya Prigogine at the Universite Libre de Bruxelles on research that led on to the development of Complexity Science. He is an Editor in Chief of the Journal, Emergence: Complexity and Organization. He has written and edited several books in the field of complexity and socio-economic modelling and published well over 200 articles in a range of fields including ecology, social science, urban and regional science, economics, systems theory, and physics. In 2011 he co-edited the Sage Handbook on Complexity and Management. He has been a consultant to DERA, the Civil Contingencies Secretariat, Department of Trade and Industry, the Canadian Fishing Industry, Elf Aquitaine, the United Nations University, the European Commission and the Asian Development Bank.
Cliff Bowman's research interests focus on the creation and capture of value, complexity, strategy processes and the development and leveraging of strategic assets. He has undertaken consulting assignments for a wide range of organizations and is the author of ten books and sixty articles. Cliff is a past Chairman of the European Case Clearing House, was Faculty Dean of Cranfield School of Management from 1998 to 2006, and holds two non-executive director positions.
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For those who manage enterprises, the lessons are clear. A system such as your business environment or your company may be stable and settle into a state of self-organization in which processes are 'locked in' and unchanging. Such a system is not resilient and is vulnerable to collapse if conditions change. Resiliency comes from internal variation and a level of redundancy that may contradict a tidy, mechanistic approach to organization, but can result in adaptability to changing conditions. The complexity world view does not see the elements of a system and attempt to control them individually, nor does it try to reduce any system to its essential elements; it views an excess of diversity and redundancy as essential to the long-term survival of any system.
The book is not highly theoretical. The authors have chosen to lay out in broad strokes the principles of a complexity worldview, and describe their implications for several areas of activity, including the social sciences, international development, management, and strategy. For managers, the latter two areas are particularly helpful, and offer an alternative to the accepted approaches to budgeting, target setting, and strategic planning. While you can set objectives, "often objectives are met due to factors coming together and we get the glory for something that was happening anyway" (p. 125). This wouldn't go over too well in an annual performance appraisal meeting, but does jibe with the reality that many employees experience. The implications described are to plan, but don't overplan; build flexibility into your planning and don't expect the outcome you anticipate; and give up the illusion of control that strategic planning typically brings.
It seems sometimes that the authors are working a bit too hard to push a view that appears obvious when you think about it. But for those who are involved in budgeting, target setting, specifying student learning outcomes, or any other activity that attempts to impose some control over a situation, it will come across as a refreshing and realistic reminder of how the world really works.
Top international reviews
When I read this book...everything fitted into place.
When I say read this is an understatement.
I was absorbed in it and will never think the same way again...