Today’s workplace is a made more complex due to the move to a more virtual environment. Workers will adapt to the variables that they come across every day. This adaptation may take the form of ad hoc changes to process without changing the documentation or even sharing that change with their group. Workers will use the knowledge they gain from experience and use it to make the process more efficient; this knowledge is usually called experience, which is shared over lunch, the water cooler or by visual observation of one worker by another. When workers find their environment too complex or hostile to share and use information, equilibrium sets in, at which point organizations are at risk of losing competitive advantage.
Workers today exhibit self-organization and emergent complexity. Self-organization is the intelligence that arises in clusters of workers. These clusters can be contained in one department… they can be cross functional, or even between their company and business partners. Emergent complexity is the propensity of workers to utilize bits of information, that when shared with other workers and merged with their bits of information, create an infinite number of changes that create an infinite variety of (many times undocumented) improvements that allow greater productivity than just the sum of individual efforts, one plus one plus one equals infinite opportunity for improvement and innovation!
As workers want to be more virtual and managers fear losing control it is possible that a company fears complexity and chaos which causes them to promote more and more mediocre employees from within. This inbreeding makes a company weak and exposes it to the number one killer of companies…complacency. Companies experiencing complacency use the existing social order, social norms, corporate values, orthodox beliefs to nullify the beneficial effects of complexity and chaos.
Organizations will reach a comfort zone. It is natural that once all our needs are being met that we will want more while doing less. This is the stage that most companies are in, just before they are forced by competitors or shareholders to make a major change. The reason it is just before, is that after a period of time in the stage of the comfort zone, every company will experience the big dip. This is when they lose market share, or a new competitor comes in and changes their paradigm. Successful companies will realize this dip is just a normal part of reaching their next comfort zone and they will adapt and evolve.
The basic premise of complexity theory is that there is a hidden order to the behavior (and evolution) of systems, whether that system is a national company, division, department, or a production line. Once leaders understand the potential of complexity and chaos, they will help their managers how to utilize bounded flexibility to allow employees or departments to function on their own and organize themselves, bringing about the hidden order.
The edge of chaos and complexity is the constantly changing balance between stagnation and anarchy.Marc Gilenson
While complexity and chaos usually work together, chaos, by itself, does not account for the positive development of the self-organizing, company, department or employee. Chaos by itself will cause organizations to fall completely out of control. Corporate entrepreneurs understand this and incorporate the concept of bounded flexibility.
Bounded flexibility is what allows a complex organization to grow and evolve. If the worker has total freedom to do what they please without structure, the complexity and chaos will cause negative outcomes. Through the use of Bounded flexibility there is the ability to change, modify, adapt (may appear to be chaos), within well-defined boundaries that allows for limitlessness creativity. This is critical to creating improvements from complex and chaotic situations that are accepted by the employees, management, customers and partners. If they feel that they must follow a rigid process in order to be creative or to collaborate, the corporate entrepreneur will fail to exist.
There are many tools that leaders can use to take advantage of these situations. We have put links to some of the most relevant: