Doctoral Project Abstract
Complexity Science for Leaders in High-Reliability,
Highly Regulated, High Risk Enterprises
Donald W. Prigel
Complexity science influences organizations in ways that transcend virtually every aspect of our lives. Sadly, leaders do not often embrace the lessons from complexity science. Recent analyses of leadership in High-Reliability organizations in complex, Highly Regulated, High Risk (HR3) enterprises suggest that dysfunctional consequences can easily arise from the interaction of technical, organizational, and leadership complexity factors. Leaders operating in HR3 environments such as chemical manufacturing and processing, health care - including biotechnology, nuclear facility operations, air travel, and space exploration, can find their actions lead to unintended consequences that are subsequently fine-tuned to disaster.
This project presents a website as an interactive resource for leaders in these complex HR3 organizations. A primer introduces HR3 leaders to complexity science and chaos theory, complex adaptive systems, clockware and swarmware, minimizing specifications, managing uncertainty, risk, and safety, unintended consequences, and the possibility of fine-tuning to disaster. Contemporary business practices can trace their managerial heritage to the scientific work of Newton and Dalton. In organizational behavior, the old Newtonian model is applied in "top-down" management theories. Leaders control everything and everyone under their authority in order to maintain a state of equilibrium. In contrast, complexity science points to emerging developments articulated and understood only as they emerge.
Discussions of HR3 issues relating to ethics and teams follow, leading to an introduction to strategic thinking/planning. HR3 leaders often do not believe in the strategic plans they write because the future is not as predictable as depicted in the plans. They see intensive processes of information-gathering and consensus building in their organizations with nothing of substance changing. These leaders are working harder and feeling like much of their hard work has little or no impact. Through strategic thinking, complexity science provides new options for HR3 leaders.