Conditioned emergence: a dissipative structures approach to transformation

MacIntosh, R. and MacLean, D. (1999) Conditioned emergence: a dissipative structures approach to transformation. Strategic Management Journal, 20(4), pp. 297-316. (doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1097-0266(199904)20:4<297::AID-SMJ25>3.0.CO;2-Q)

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This paper presents a novel framework for the management of organisational transformation, defined here as a relatively rapid transition from one archetype to another. The concept of dissipative structures, from the field of complexity theory, is used to develop and explain a specific sequence of activities which underpin effective transformation. This sequence integrates selected concepts from the literatures on strategic change, organisational learning and business processes; in so doing, it introduces a degree of prescriptiveness which differentiates it from other managerial interpretations of complexity theory. Specifically, it proposes a three-stage process: first, the organisation conditions the outcome of the transformation process by articulating and reconfiguring the rules which underpin its deep structure; second, it takes steps to move from its current equilibrium and, finally, it moves into a period where positive and negative feedback loops become the focus of managerial attention. The paper argues that by managing at the level of deep structure in social systems, organisations can gain some influence over self-organising processes which are typically regarded as unpredictable in the natural sciences. However, the paper further argues that this influence is limited to archetypal features and that detailed forms and behaviours are emergent properties of the system. Two illustrative case-vignettes are presented to give an insight into the practical application of the model before conclusions are reached which speculate on the implications of this approach for strategy research.

Item Type:Articles
Additional Information:The definitive version is available at
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:MacLean, Professor Donald and MacIntosh, Professor Robert
Authors: MacIntosh, R., and MacLean, D.
Subjects:H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor > HD28 Management. Industrial Management
College/School:College of Social Sciences > Adam Smith Business School > Management
Journal Name:Strategic Management Journal
ISSN (Online):1097-0266
Published Online:16 March 1999
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 1999 Wiley-Blackwell
First Published:First published in Strategic Management Journal 20(4):297-316
Publisher Policy:Reproduced in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher.

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