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Complexity: An Annotated Bibliography

Complexity science is new; its practitioners still have no common language or agreed set of concepts. The concepts are being developed in a diverse range of subjects, from evolutionary biology to adaptive computing. So there is no single definitive text. I have included below a number of sources which seem useful and relevant to me. The books by Lewin and Waldrop are the best general introductions to the subject; Arthur Battram's book gives a good overview of how complexity theory may relate to organisations. (This list is not exhaustive; there are a number of other books which I have not yet had a chance to read which are equally important.)

For convenience I have included links to Amazon for those who would like more details on a particular volume.

Abraham, Ralph H. & Shaw, Christopher D. 1992. Dynamics: The Geometry of Behaviour. (2nd ed) Redwood City, Ca: Addison-Wesley.

A pictorial introduction to dynamics, state spaces, attractors and so on. Not an easy read but great for those who hate maths and have a little perseverance.

Bak, Per 1997. How Nature Works: The Science of Self-Organized Criticality. Oxford: University Press.

Racy and opinionated book, offering a particular perspective on complex systems. His experiments with sand piles lead to links between avalanches, dinosaur extinctions, stock market prices and many other phenomena in a state of ‘self-organised criticality.’

Bar-Yam, Yaneer 1997. Dynamics of Complex Systems. Reading, Mass: Addison-Wesley.

Highly technical account of some approaches to modelling complexity.

Baskin, Ken 1998. Corporate DNA: Learning from Life. Boston: Butterworth Heinemann.

Drawing on perspectives from genetics and complexity, Ken Baskin looks at organisational change

Battram, Arthur 1999. Navigating Complexity: The Essential Guide to Complexity Theory in Business and Management. London: Industrial Society.

Based on Arthur's earlier "Complexicon", this book gives a good introduction to complexity concepts and to their possible application to organizations.

Capra, Fritjof 1997 (1996). The Web of Life: A New Synthesis of Mind and Matter. London: Flamingo.

An individual attempt to use systems thinking and complexity to offer a new perspective on the universe. Thought-provoking and accessible.

Casti, John L. 1994. Complexification: Explaining a Paradoxical World Through the Science of Surprise. London: Abacus.

A popular mathematical look at some aspects of complexity.

Cilliers, Paul 1998. Complexity and Postmodernism: Understanding Complex Systems. London: Routledge.

An interesting look at complexity from a philosophical perspective. Cilliers makes links between some approaches to complexity and the post-structuralism of Jacques Derrida

Clippinger, John Henry III 2000, The Biology of Business. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

An anthology of complexity theory applied to business. A bit patchy (the 'contribution' from Brian Arthur was actually given as a talk in 1994). I found the contributions from Andy Clark and Philip Anderson particularly interesting.

Cohen, Jack & Stewart, Iain 1995 (1994). The Collapse of Chaos: Discovering Simplicity in a Complex World. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Written by a reproductive biologist and a mathematician, this book gives both a popular introduction to aspects of complexity and also introduces some new thinking on the subject by the authors.

Critchley, Bill 1998. "The Role of a Change Agent." in Philip Sadler (ed) Management Consultancy: A Handbook of Best Practice. London:Kogan Page.

Gives an account of a complexity-based intervention Critchley did with Patricia Shaw (q.v.).

Cvitanovic, Predrag 1984. Universality in Chaos. Bristol: Adam Hilger.

Containes reprints of some of the seminal works in the development of chaos theory, including papers by Lorenz, May, Feigenbaum, Crutchfield and Ruelle. Not for the faint-hearted.

Dennett, Daniel C. 1995. Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

                     Dennett gives a philosophical perspective on Darwinism. The book includes a good exposition of Richard Dawkins' notion of 'memes'.  

Eve, Raymond A., Horsfall, Sara & Lee, Mary E. (eds) 1997. Chaos, Complexity & Sociology: Myths, Models & Theories. Thousand Oaks, Ca: Sage.

An anthology of papers, growing out of an Internet discussion group, which concentrates on the relationship between complexity theory and the social sciences.

Geert, Paul van 1994. Dynamic Systems of Development: Change Between Complexity & Chaos. New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf.

Offers a complex systems approach to issues in developmental psychology. A really useful feature of this book is the large number of examples of worked models which you can run on your spreadsheet (Lotus 1-2-3 is used but it's fairly easy to translate the into other formats). Being able to play with dynamical models can give a real insight into chaotic systems.

Geuss, Arie de 1998. "Planning as Learning". Havard Business Review March-April.

Arie de Geuss was head of planning at Royal Dutch/Shell. In this paper he is concerned with planning as an aid to adaptive learning. He also introduces the notion of consultant as transitional object! Scenario planning was developed at Shell and it is an approach which fits better with complexity perspectives than most traditional planning methods.

Goodwin, Brian 1997 (1994). How the Leopard Changed its Spots: The Evolution of Complexity. London: Phoenix.

Brian Goodwin is a biologist whose views are considered a bit heretical by orthodox neo-Darwinists such as Richard Dawkins. This book looks at complexity from a biological and evolutionary perspective.

Holland, John H. 1998. Emergence: From Chaos to Order. Reading, Mass: Helix.

Holland’s latest book. I found it tougher-going than ‘Hidden Order’. He advocates the use of computer models to study emergent phenomena and shows some of his thinking about generalised models.

Holland, John H. 1995. Hidden Order. Reading, Mass: Helix.

Holland is a computer scientist who has developed models of the ways in which interactions between agents in a complex adaptive system might work. His work has been influential although there is little reference in this book to organisational studies.

Johnson, H. Thomas & Broms, Anders 2000, Profit Beyond Measure: Extraordinary Results Through Attention to Work and People. London: Nicholas Brealey.

Somewhat disappointing book which gives some interesting information on Toyota and Scania. The attempt to link their practices with complexity theory is weak.

Kauffman, Stuart 1996 (1995). At Home in the Universe: The Search for Laws of Complexity. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Like John Holland, Stuart Kauffman is connected with the Santa Fe Institute, one of the leading centres for the study of complexity. A well-written book, though not an easy read, it follows Kauffman’s struggle to discover the conditions for emergence to occur at the edge of chaos—‘order for free’, as Kauffman calls it.

Kelly, Susanne & Allison, Mary Ann 1998. The Complexity Advantage: How the Science of Complexity can Help Your Business Achieve Peak Performance. New York: Business Week Books.

An interesting attempt to apply complexity to organisations—albeit in a rather American ‘business book’ way. There is some interesting good stuff here, together with some provocative speculations, but the overall effect is rather prescriptive and mechanistic.

Lewin, Roger 1999 (2nd ed). Complexity: Life on the Edge of Chaos. London: Phoenix.

A readable introduction to the subject, focusing especially on the work and personalities of the Santa Fe Institute.

McMaster, Michael D. 1997. The Praxis Equation: Design Principles for Intelligent Organisation. Douglas IOM: Knowledge Based Development.

Mike McMaster develops a number of ideas from Kauffman, Holland and others and considers their possible application to organisations.

Merry, Uri 1995. Coping With Uncertainty: Insights from the New Sciences of Chaos, Self-Organization, and Complexity. Westport, Conn: Praeger.

Somewhat disappointing book, although a good introductory piece. I find Uri’s articles more interesting and stimulating.

Moore, James 1996. The Death of Competition: Leadership & Strategy in the Age of Business Ecosystems. London: John Wiley.

Not about complexity as such, but applies ideas from ecology to suggest new ways of strategic collaboration and development.

Morgan, Gareth 1999 (2nd ed). Images of Organization. Altamira Press.

The classic on metaphors as approaches to organisation development and consulting. It includes a section on attractors and complexity but contains some fundamental misconceptions.

Nalebuff, Barry & Brandenburger, Adam 1996. Co-opetition. London: HarperCollins.

Drawing on perspectives from game theory, presents a win-win approach to corporate strategy.

Price, If & Shaw, Ray 1998. Shifting the Patterns: Breaking the Memetic Codes of Corporate Performance. Chalford, Gloucs.: Management Books 2000.

Price & Shaw adopt a systemic approach to organisational change, coupled with an emphasis on memes—the hypothetical ‘genes of culture’ proposed by Richard Dawkins.

Reynolds Craig W. 1987 "Flocks, Herds, and Schools: A Distributed Behavioral Model" Computer Graphics, 21(4), July, pp. 25-34.

Craig Reynolds original paper on boids and flocking. It can also be found via his web site - http://hmt.com/cwr/boids.html - as can many Java implementations of flocking and swarming behaviours.

Sanders, Irene 1999. Strategic Thinking and the New Science: Planning in the Midst of Chaos, Complexity, and Change. New York: The Free Press.

Has a very limited understanding of complexity, with some major misunderstandings of attractors. Interesting approach to planning, but little to do with complexity. (The majority of Amazon reviewers seem to disagree with my rather negative assessment of this book.)

Seel, Richard 2000, "Culture & Complexity: New Insights into Organisational Change." Organisations & People 7(2): 2-9

Semler, Ricardo 1993, Maverick!: The Success Story Behind the World's Most Unusual Workplace. London: Century.

Not a word about complexity theory but many of Semler's practices seem to show an intuitive grasp of many of its principles. A great read, very easy to absorb and will stimulate much thought.

Shaw, Patricia 1997. "Intervening in the Shadow Systems of Organizations: Consulting from a Complexity Perspective." Journal of Organizational Change Management 10(3): 235-250.

An account of a consulting assignment using perspectives developed by Ralph Stacey.

Stacey, Ralph 1996. Complexity and Creativity in Organizations. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

Stacey combines thinking from Santa Fe with the Kleinian perspectives of the Tavistock Institute. Some good ideas but not easy to read.

Stewart, Ian 1997 (2nd ed). Does God Play Dice?: The New Mathematics of Chaos. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

A popular, but mind-stretching, introduction to the mathematics behind chaos theory.

van der Heijden, Kees 1996. Scenarios: The Art of Strategic Conversation. Chichester: John Wiley.

Describes the approach to scenario planning developed during his time at Shell.

Waddington, C. H. 1977. Tools for Thought. London: Paladin.

A classic. Written before 'complexity' became fashionable it offers some ways of thinking about complex systems.

Waldrop, M. Mitchell 1993 (1992). Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos. London: Viking.

An excellent popular account of complexity and its development. Gives some good insights into the thinking behind complexity as well as the personalities of those most deeply involved.

Wheatley, Margaret J. 1994 (1992). Leadership and the New Science: Learning About Organization from an Orderly Universe. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

A much-cited but rather disappointing book. Deals mainly with chaos theory rather than complexity.

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Last modified: 12th January 2008

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