I am tidying up and I glanced through a notebook from 2 years ago. I was utterly fascinated by ‘emergence’, the phenomenon where a flock of birds, for example, emerges from simple behaviour of birds. With three very simple rules – join the flock, keep up and keep a respectable “stopping distance” – birds individually, and probably without thought, create a flock that looks as if someone did think it up.
Emergence, business & management
We are fascinated with “emergence” in a business context because a naturally-forming flock undermines the idea of the all knowing and ominiscent leader. The planning, leading, organizing & controlling management theory of Fayol goes ‘for a loop’.
At first, I was puzzled that university departments hadn’t taken up this idea more vigorouosly, and more practically.
Including emergence in the theory of management
Two years on, I’ve found my thinking has drifted. Yes, it is certainly true that the role of managers is probably exaggerated (with their pay). But the project of changing management is unnecessary. Overmanaged firms will self-destruct, possibly at great cost to themselves and others, simply because managers have to be paid for and management that is not necessary simply makes a firm unweildy, inefficient and unprofitable.
The real issue is where our better understanding of organization is emerging in business. The best example that is written up is the motorcycle industry of China. The best example where an industry is trying to use similar processes is the aerospace industry in UK and the production of the Boeing 787.
Moving along to understanding emergence in business
The challenge now is to understand the variations of self-organizing networks.
I think, perhaps, the basic principle is that emergence, by definition, is not willed.
- We can prevent it happening.
- We can illustrate the principle.
But in real life, the probably the best we can do is create conditions for it to happen. What are those conditions?
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