Nobody would deny that the world has become more complex during the past decades. With digitization, the interconnectivity between people and things has jumped by leaps and bounds. Dense networks now define the technical, social, and economic landscape.
I remember well when the idea of applying complexity science to management was first being eagerly discussed in the 1990s. By then, for example, scholars at the University of St. Gallen had developed a management model based on systems thinking. Popular literature propagated the ideas of complexity theory – in particular, the notion of the “butterfly effect” by which a small event in a remote part of the world (like the flap of a butterfly’s wings) could trigger a chain of events that would add up to a disruptive change in the larger system (such as a hurricane). Managers’ eyes were opened to the reality that organizations are not just complicated but complex.
Why did this interest and work in complexity not lead to major changes in management practices? There are, I think, a few major reasons that it didn’t – and that also suggest that the overdue change might now finally take place.