Published in Proceedings of InterSymp-1999: The 11th International Conference on Systems Research, Informatics and Cybernetics: Baden-Baden, Germany, August 2, 1999, pages 9-24.
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This paper assumes that the world we live in consists of many interwoven complex adaptive systems. In the literature such systems are characterized as comprising many moving parts and processes that interact significantly in a mostly non-linear manner. It is argued that the forces that act on such complex systems are not additive, and that their impact occurs along non-linear interactions within the system. In particular, many of these systems are adaptive in that they change their behavior (through their interactions) over time, so that if they are subjected to a similar force or event a second time they may react in a substantially different manner. Over the past several decades a number of researchers have been intrigued by the abundance of complex adaptive systems in both the natural and human world (Holland 1995, Cowan et al. 1994, Kauffman 1992). In the natural world these include the human brain, immune systems, ecologies, cells, and many others. In the human world, where it is well known that the interaction of just two persons can reach a high level of complexity, they include cultural and social systems (Figs. 1 and 2).
The paper describes the behavioral characteristics of complex adaptive systems, as they have been identified in the literature, and briefly discusses how these characteristics appear to manifest themselves in the evolution of technology, biology, and the economy. The influence of complex adaptive system notions on the structure and operation of a business organization is addressed in respect to decentralization, diversification, communication, and organizational flexibility. Attention is drawn to the inadequacies of existing quantitative tools and the opportunities that exist for leveraging human behavioral characteristics and organizational capabilities in a complex adaptive systems environment.