Organizational evolution and social complexity


Evolutionary processes in biological systems are often used as an analogy for similar processes within social organizations.  The problem with making this transition is the difficulty that is encountered when attempting to find analogies for all the subparts making up the theory of evolution.  For example, where does sexual reproduction, DNA, and, selection fit at the social level?  Nonetheless, such an analogy holds great power in explaining many social processes within organizations.  Knapp (1999, p. 80) comments that this comparison should be at a higher level since “what evolves is not an organism, subject to a fixed and given environment, but an ecosystem.”  As individual organs within a body lack the properties of the whole individual, so too does a social organization gain additional characteristics that are not found among individual members.  In this way, “social structures may reproduce or perpetuate themselves independently of the awareness and intentions of individuals” (p. 81).  Social structures might then be seen as complexity of processes, which extends beyond complexity of relationships.


Knapp, P. (1999).  Evolution, complex systems, and the dialectic.  Journal of World-Systems Research [Online], 5, 74-103. 
URL: (link no longer active 6/6/09)


Ross A. Wirth, Ph.D. (2004)

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Transformative Networking – connecting change leaders to enable self-organized grassroots change.

Next Steps – While still conceptual, transformative networking offers the possibility of leading change through the networking of those already interested or involved in similar initiatives, effectively tearing down existing silos of practice that exist across disciplines and fields of work.  The next step is to develop a proof of concept built on the theoretical underpinnings above, possibly using Google Wave as the collaboration platform.  Included will be identifying the minimal structure and governance required to enable self-organization within the network while not constraining what might emerge.  Join this initiative and help create the future of organizing - networking communities of interest.    

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Last modified: July 19, 2009