Change Escalation Processes and Complex Adaptive Systems: From Incremental Reconfigurations to Discontinuous Restructuring

Girod, Stephane and Whittington, Richard (2015) Change Escalation Processes and Complex Adaptive Systems: From Incremental Reconfigurations to Discontinuous Restructuring. Organization Science, 26 (5). pp. 1520-1535.

Abstract

This study examines when “incremental” change is likely to trigger “discontinuous” change, using the lens of complex adaptive systems theory. Going beyond the simulations and case studies through which complex adaptive systems have been approached so far, we study the relationship between incremental organizational reconfigurations and discontinuous organizational restructurings using a large-scale database of U.S. Fortune 50 industrial corporations. We develop two types of escalation process in organizations: accumulation and perturbation. Under ordinary conditions, it is perturbation rather than the accumulation that is more likely to trigger subsequent discontinuous change. Consistent with complex adaptive systems theory, organizations are more sensitive to both accumulation and perturbation in conditions of heightened disequilibrium. Contrary to expectations, highly interconnected organizations are not more liable to discontinuous change. We conclude with implications for further research, especially the need to attend to the potential role of managerial design and coping when transferring complex adaptive systems theory from natural systems to organizational systems.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: complex adaptive systems; organizational restructuring; reconfigurations
Subject(s): Strategy; Entrepreneurship & Global business
Centre: Faculty of Strategy, Entrepreneurship and International Business
Date Deposited: 19 Oct 2015 09:47
Last Modified: 23 Oct 2015 14:08
Funders: N/A
URI: http://eureka.sbs.ox.ac.uk/id/eprint/5642

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