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Jamie Lawrence


Insights Director

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Book review: Weaving complexity and business: engaging the soul at work


Title: Weaving complexity and business: engaging the soul at work
Authors: Roger Lewin and Birute Regine
Publisher: Texere, New York
ISBN: 1-58799-043-1
Price: £12.99

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This book helps to explain how complexity theory (sometimes called chaos theory) can be used in a business setting. The authors argue that this involves engaging the soul.

I found the book well written and easy to read. It’s split into three sections, the first highlighting the basics of complexity theory, the second providing case studies and the final part detailing ’the world of relationships’.

Complexity theory is clearly explained and I liked the example of computer “boids” that simulate the way birds flock together. Co-ordinating the movement of so many would have to be explained in highly detailed and complicated terms using traditional management models – how does the chief bird get the others to go the same way? The boids only have to follow three basic rules and a computer-generated flock exists, namely: fly in the direction of other boids; try to match the velocity of neighbouring boids; avoid bumping into things. The authors then go on to argue that organisations can be seen as complex adaptive systems and as a result the way that they behave to their staff has to change from planning and control to more human-orientated management approaches.

Some of the case studies where individual shining stars were given the support and framework to achieve great things were particularly inspiring . The first case is a medical centre in the States where patients were put before the needs of consultants or the need to return a profit, and achieving success was a by-product of this attitude. One example of a small-scale change with dramatic impact was the admissions desk, which was redesigned by those who worked at it to reduce admission times from twenty hours to eighty minutes. Whilst the idea that asking staff involved how to optimise processes is hardly new (although lamentably lacking in most organisations) it forming part of a complex system is a new approach.

Other case studies include St. Luke’s, the now-infamous advertising agency that was set up by two people disillusioned which the lack of morals, aggressive work practises, and greed rife within that industry. One case study even points to an organisation where the team recruits for their manager! Before immediately discarding that as an idea, think about it. Who really knows how effective a manager is, their staff who have to deliver the end result, or their manager who sees the output? Whilst an extreme it can indicate a useful route to take.

The final section again has some useful stories and analogies. I particularly enjoyed the comparison of CEOs with the Wizard of Oz. Believed to be all-powerful and omnipotent by their subjects, they are in fact ordinary people.

I’m not convinced that this book clearly demonstrated a link between complexity and a soul, but it is nevertheless a good read. I enjoyed the case studies as they indicate examples of organisations that are successful and do care about their staff, empowering them to be effective. I don’t think that the arguments presented would be able to sway an unconvinced CEO or HR professional, but if you genuinely care about individuals at work, you’ll find the case studies useful back-up for your case.

Matthew Simkin

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Jamie Lawrence

Insights Director

Read more from Jamie Lawrence

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