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Complexity theory and organizing form dualities

Aaron C.T. Smith (School of Sport, Tourism and Hospitality Management, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia)
Fiona Graetz (Bowater School of Management and Marketing, Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia)

Management Decision

ISSN: 0025-1747

Article publication date: 1 August 2006




The purpose of this paper is to describe how order‐generated rules applied to organizing form dualities can assist in creating the conditions for emergent, self‐organized behavior in organizations, thereby offering an operational deployment of complexity theory.


The paper begins by showing that the concept of dualities is consistent with complexity‐thinking. In addition, when applied to organizing forms, dualities represent a practical way of affecting an organization's balance between chaos and order. Thus, when augmented with order‐generating rules, organizing form dualities provide an access point for the practical instigation of edge of chaos conditions and the potential for emergence.


The paper maintains that many attempts to “manage” complexity have been associated with changes to organizing forms, specifically toward new forms of organizing. It is suggested that organizing form dualities provide some management guidance for encouraging the “edge of chaos” conditions advocated in complexity theory, although the details of self‐organization cannot be prescribed given the assumptions of non‐linearity associated with complexity theory perspectives. Finally, it is proposed that organizing dualities can elucidate the nature and application of order‐generating rules in non‐linear complex systems.

Practical implications

Dualities offer some guidance toward the practical implementation of complexity theory as they represent an accessible sub‐system where the forces for order and chaos – traditional and new forms of organizing respectively – are accessible and subject to manipulation.


The commonalities between dualities and complexity theory are intuitive, but little conceptual work has shown how the former can be employed as a guide to managing organizing forms. Moreover, this approach demonstrates that managers may be able to stimulate “edge of chaos” conditions in a practical way, without making positivistic assumptions about the causality associated with their efforts.



Smith, A.C.T. and Graetz, F. (2006), "Complexity theory and organizing form dualities", Management Decision, Vol. 44 No. 7, pp. 851-870.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2006, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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