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Hardcover Surfing the Edge of Chaos: The Laws of Nature and the New Laws of Business Book

ISBN: 0812933168

ISBN13: 9780812933161

Surfing the Edge of Chaos: The Laws of Nature and the New Laws of Business

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Book Overview

Surfing the Edge of Chaos is a brilliant, powerful, and practical book about the parallels between business and nature--two fields that feature nonstop battles between the forces of tradition and the... This description may be from another edition of this product.

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

Great introduction to a fascinating new field

Chaos WILL BE the next big thing. I found this book fascinating and I truly believe the ideas suggested will have an influence upon business in the years to come. Thinking of the world and business in neo-classical equations is just plain wrong and the quicker we can embrace systemic complexity the better. My only qualm is that as the book wears on the same ideas get a little beaten over the head, but this is MINOR and I still think the book is a must read for anyone interested in this emerging field.

Read this or be left in the dust!

Its funny. I was reading the review following this one and the person was saying how he could NOT find anything worthwhile to apply to his business. He must not have even picked up the book!I think there are plenty of great lessons within the book. Its not only a book about strategy, but a new framework to think in terms of. The world has changed greatly in the last 20 years and a lot of the old management frameworks have less significance. Complexity science is the new way to think and this book does a fantastic job of relating the "complex" topic to business. And the rules apply to all areas of the organization: strategy, organizational design, etc. If you want to be prepared to lead the complex globlal organizations of tomorrow, then this is a must read.

A Must Read

Surfing the Edge of Chaos does a marvelous job of taking many of the ideas being developed in complexity theory and applying them to the business world. In contrast say to Garrett Ralls who tried to do much the same thing, this book succeeds. I found myself continually thinking about not only the examples they provide, but also on my own work experiences and other companies that I have analyzed.The authors do an excellent job of contrasting their approach (adaptive leadership) with more traditional reorganization (operational leadership). But refreshingly, they also acknowledge that in some cases, the more traditional approach might be more appropriate. There are many interesting concepts being developed by complexity theorists and this book manages to capture many, if not most, of them.They show repeatedly the need to increase the stress on an organization in order to break past patterns of behavior. Their use of fitness landscapes (the idea that a successful company rests on a peak, and that in order to reach a new higher peak, often you must go down into the valley) is very powerful and at least partially explains why so many successful companies subsequently struggle, or fail, to adapt. Importantly though, the authors also spend a great deal of time talking about the unintended (or second and third order) effects of change. The point is not that you will be able to predict all of them (which is what chaos theory explicity says you cannot do), but rather that you must be flexible enough to roll with those unanticipated consequences.Does that mean that every idea in this book is new? Of course not, but to be successful, a new theory often must combine the old with the new. And this book does a masterful of applying the ideas of Chaos/Complexity theory to business, of providing a new framework to think about both old and new problems. You may not agree with everything that appears in this book, but you will certainly come away with much food for thought.

Belongs on your list of books on chaos

In the process of reading a number of related books on chaos and complex adaptive systems, Surfing in the Edge is one on my current list. It compliments well other readings, and in many cases quotes meaningfully from them (e.g., Haeckel's - Adaptive Enterprises; Kelly - New Rules for the New Economy; McMaster - Intelligence Advantage).I found this book an easy read, constantly underlining sentences and putting the book down to reflect on what was said and my own past experiences. I could see why my past approaches to management and motivation (especially reward systems which the book discusses in depth), described here as being used even by management considered open and progressive, was not successful, or if successful, not sustainable.Anyone looking for specific answers on what organizational approaches should be used to take advantage of the concepts behind chaos should perhaps focus on this book's emphasis of things being messy, emerging in ways we cannot predict, and the experience of generating change not being straight forward (Herding Butterflies). If one can have faith that in the designed sloppiness, good things can be emerging, that faith could help one and other true believers stay the course without returning to command-and-control methods. It takes a whole new mindset to create the kind of change described in this book, and it takes a degree of critical mass in gaining converts who will in good faith implement the precepts over what could be a long period of time. The need for patience is well explained in the book.The book is clearly not into the biology view of allowing just anything to emerge on its own. Boundaries and interventions are clearly proscribed here as needing to be taken, something very difficult to judge what they should be in a particular situation, but the guiding principles should generate dialogue and reflection from those attempting to design organizations for emergence.This book does an outstanding job of continually discussing our tendencies to go for optimization as the end goal. In many cases, as described in this book, what we focus on to optimize eventually causes the problem because there are so many ways the efforts can be sabotaged. Those who tend to continually optimize tend to take the traditional approach of assuming predictability of future events (thus assuming few changes will take place as plans are implemented), and as managers having the answers to be imposed on an organization waiting for guidance. This book gives wonderful advice on just what management can and cannot do without the eyes and ears of the masses on the front line where the real change is taking place; it is truly humbling but exhilarating to think of the potential that can be unleashed in organizations if managers will see themselves as designers for emergence.Wonderful case studies. Normally I tend to gloss over case studies, but those in this book are important, in part because assumed successes later deteriorated a

"Exhilerating, rewarding, and crucial"

"'Living systems' isn't a metaphor for how human institutions operate. It's the way it is." The book is built on this point. Living systems work much more rapidly and effectively than most human ones do. By using the most successful living systems as models, we can make great strides in improving our human organizations. Think of this as a best practice book based on the ants and the bees. Surfing the Edge of Chaos is an unusually good book on applying the lessons of complexity science about the biological world to business progress. The material is aimed at continuous renewal of the large existing organization, but will be valuable to organizations of all ages and sizes. The explanations of the key principles are well documented with many interesting animal and business examples. Based on experience by the authors as advisors to most of the businesses cited, the stories have a depth and a resonance that is missing in many books about how to apply the lessons of "complex adaptive systems" to human organizations.The book also strongly and effectively challenges the existing engineering and reengineering models of how to improve organizations. If you are about to put a lot of effort into these areas, hold up until you have a chance to read this book. You may well change your mind. Many people tell me that they still do not understand what they need to do in order to apply the lessons of complexity science to their business after reading books on this subject. Few will have that problem after reading this excellent work.The authors help make the transition between the mechanical model of organizations to a biological one by synthesizing four new principles:(1) "Equilibrium is a precursor to death."(2) "In the face of threat, or when galvanized by a compelling opportunity, living things move toward the edge of chaos. This condition evokes higher levels of mutation and experimentation, and fresh solutions are likely to be found."(3) "When this excitation takes place, the components of living systems self-organize and new forms and repertoires emerge from the turmoil."(4) "Living systems cannot be directed along a linear path. Unforeseen consequences are inevitable. The challenge is to disturb them in a manner that approximates the desired outcome."Fascinating examples are drawn from the exploration unit of British Petroleum, Hewlett-Packard, Monsanto's refocus into biotechnology, Royal Dutch/Shell's downstream activities, Sears' refocus of its store activities, and the U.S. Army's approach to war gaming to illustrate these principles. One of the things I liked about the examples is that they pointed out the errors that the organizations made, as well as the successes. In most cases, the companies only partially converted to following these principles. You will also learn about African termites, South American fire ants, North American coyotes, and fires at Yellowstone as examples of these principles, as well. The book is also s
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