Complexity, Management and the Dynamics of Change

Challenges for Practice

By Elizabeth McMillan

  • Price: £26.99
  • ISBN: 978-0-415-41722-8
  • Publish Date: 19th March 2008
  • Imprint: Routledge
  • Pages: 256 pages

The insights of complexity science can allow today’s managers to embrace the challenges and uncertainty of the twenty-first century, and successfully oversee organisational change and development. Elizabeth McMillan’s book brings these ideas into perspective by:

  • outlining the historical relationship between science and organisations
  • reviewing current perspectives on organisational change and best practice
  • citing real-life examples of the use of complexity science ideas
  • discussing issues which may arise when using ideas from complexity

Written in an accessible style to bridge the gap from scientific theory to commercial applicability, this text shows how organisations can become more effective, democratic and sustainable through complexity science.

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Reviews of “Complexity, Management and the Dynamics of Change: Challenges for Practice (taken from

I bought the book by chance when I was in London last year looking for material that would help me understand why traditional development projects fell short of their goals. Despite having read a great deal of literature on management techniques, change management and project management, I was still not convinced that an instrumental view to change was sustainable. I could see that the reality, on the ground, was different and therefore development programs had to become more adaptive and flexible to accommodate changes in processes, not only benchmark the outputs. I wanted a book that would help me communicate more effectively with donors about the need to rethink traditional approaches to management. This book gave me the insight, ideas and language to do that. I really enjoyed reading the book and I have shared it widely in Cambodia and Bangladesh so my copy is quite worn at this point. I definitely recommend this book to anyone who is searching for explanations for why despite best efforts some programs don’t work and others do. The book changed my perspective on how programs should be developed, managed and monitored – and why we should be aiming for “the edge of chaos.”
Marielle Sander, Lindstrom, UK

As someone new to complexity science we were recommended this book as part of our studies. I was not prepared for the depth of how difficult complexity was going to be. This book made my first foray into the subject so much easier. Now I have developed a thirst for the subject. I highly recommend this book to help to get to grips with the topic.
C. McDermott

Having read Elizabeth’s first book (which was excellent) I could not wait to read the second. The book is quite stunning. It’s easy to read, with clear understandable examples of why we should change and more importantly how, which is missed by most books on Complexity.

This book, obviously grounded in research, yet not an ‘academic wander’, shows clear links to poor management and a failure to engage staff regardless of how good the company product/service, as the first symptom of a struggling organisation. Its suggestion of bottom-up transformation is the only way forward and if this argument is accepted, the new way of thinking, wonderfully explored by this book, will bring significant changes.

This is an excellent read. I now recommend this book, along with the first, to all my students, including MBA and PhD. It’s a must read for those in study but also those attempting to lead in these difficult times. A survival guide grounded in theory, and written for the real world application.

Dr Paul T Thomas, ‘The Business Doctor’, University of Glamorgan, Wales, UK

Complexity, Organizations and Change: An essential introduction

By Elizabeth McMillan

  • Price: £28.79
  • ISBN: 978-0-415-39502-1
  • Publish Date: 17th May 2006
  • Imprint: Routledge
  • Pages: 208 pages

Complexity science has seriously challenged long-held views in the scientific community about how the world works. These ideas, particularly about the living world, also have radical and profound implications for organizations and society as a whole. Complexity, Organizations and Change, available in paperback for the first time, describes and considers ideas and insights from complexity science, and examines their use in organizations, especially in bringing about major organizational change.

This key book explores how organizations, their design, the way they operate and, importantly, the people who co-create them, are thought of. Explaining the history and development of complexity science in an accessible way for the non-scientific reader, this outstanding book describes key concepts and their use in theory and practice. Illustrated with real-life examples from organizations in the UK, Europe and the USA, the book includes an in-depth case study of an organization which used complexity principles as part of a strategic change intervention.

From this, useful models for introducing a complexity-based change process are derived. Complexity, Organizations and Change will appeal to academics, researchers and advanced students who are interested in complexity science and what it means for strategy, organization and management theory and organizational change.

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Reviews of “Complexity, organizations and change: An Essential Introduction”

“Engaging from cover to cover with a long list of ideas that merit either further investigation or trial ”
Ross A.Wirth Manager, Organizational Learning, Citgo Petroleum Corporation

‘Elizabeth McMillan deserves great credit for producing such a helpful text. In particular, the introductory sections which organise the many and varied roots of complexity thinking, offer an excellent summary of a vast array of material. Students new to complexity thinking will find the text a great starting point.’
Robert MacIntosh, University of Strathclyde, UK

‘This is an excellent, well structured and thoroughly thought out text. The author skilfully combines a detailed presentation of the theoretical grounding with an original case study illustrating the practical application of the proposed concept of complexity. It is interesting to read and engaging.’
Svetlana Cicmil, University of the West of England, UK

“This is an important book, and essential reading for scholars and practitioners concerned with (political or commercial) organisational change management in the 21st century, especially those unfamiliar with the fast – advancing and now widely accepted scientific discourse on complexity theory”
Katharine N. Farrell Queen’s University, Belfast

“Chaos, complexity, change… the world is fast flowing and highly uncertain. How can business organisations and other institutions survive in ambiguous times? How can modern approaches in science help to provide a more realistic picture of managerial practice? These are the subjects of the present book… I firmly believe that most readers will walk away with a significantly better understanding of these issues… “
Christine Vallaster University of Giessen, Germany

Recent Academic Papers & Book Chapters.

McMillan, E and Carlisle, Y. (2007) ‘Strategy as Order Emerging from Chaos: A Public Sector Experience’. Long Range Planning 40 (6) December

McMillan, E and Carlisle, Y. (2006)’Innovation in Organizations from a Complex Adaptive Systems Perspective’. Emergence: Complexity and Organization

McMillan, E. (2005) ‘Encouraging Strategic Change by using Complexity based principles: A Case Study of the Open University, UK’ in Richardson, K. ed. Managing the Complex: Philosophy, Theory and Practice, New York: Information Age Publishing.

Anderson, C. and McMillan, E. (2003) ‘Of ants and men: self organization in human and insect teams’, Emergence 5 (2) New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Inc.

McMillan, E. and Carlisle, Y (2003) ‘Complexity Strategic thinking and Organisational Change’, Australian and New Zealand Academy of Management Conference Proceedings, Edith Cowan University, December 2003.

McMillan, E. (2002) ‘Considering organisation structure and design from a Complexity Paradigm Perspective’ in Frizzelle, G. and Richards, H. (eds.) Tackling industrial complexity: the ideas that make a difference. Institute of Manufacturing, University of Cambridge.

Carlisle, Y. and McMillan, E. (2002) ‘Thinking differently about strategy: comparing paradigms’, Australian and New Zealand Academy of Management Conference Proceedings, La Trobe University, December 2002.

McMillan, E. (2000) ‘Using Self Organising Principles to create effective project teams as part of an Organisational Change intervention: a case study of the Open University’, in McCarthy, I. and Rakotobe-Joel, T. (eds.) Complexity and Complex Systems in Industry – A Conference Proceedings. Warwick University UK.