An Organization on the Edge of Chaos: The Origins of the Metaphor and its Impact on the Theory and Practice of Strategic Management

Open access


The notion “edge of chaos” coined in complex systems studies has become apart of the vocabulary of modern management theory and practice. This utterance is especially significant since it has been applied in management as a metaphor associated with innovativeness and creativity. The aim of the paper is to study what are the consequences of the fact that this term is applied in management as a dead metaphor, i.e. it is decoupled from its initial meaning. A deepened analysis of the interpretations and misinterpretations of the term “organization on the edge of chaos” applied in strategic management is presented.

If the inline PDF is not rendering correctly, you can download the PDF file here.

  • Allen P. Maguire S. McKelvey B. (eds.) 2011 The Sage Handbook of Complexity and Management SAGE Los Angeles.

  • Andriani P. McKelvey B. 2009 From Gaussian to Paretian thinking: Causes and implications of power laws in organizations Organization Science vol. 20 no. 6 pp. 1053-1071.

  • Ansoff H.I. 1979 Strategic Management Macmillan London.

  • Ashby W.R. 1963 An Introduction to Cybernetics Wiley New York.

  • Barabási A.-L. 2003 Linked. How Everything is Connected to Everything Else and What It Means for Business Science and Everyday Life Penguin New York.

  • Bar-Yam Y. 1997 Dynamics of Complex Systems Addison-Wesley Reading MA.

  • Bertalanffy L. von. 1968 General Systems Theory Braziller New York.

  • Biggiero L. 2001 Sources of complexity Human Systems Non-linear Dynamics Psychology and Life Sciences vol. 5 no. 1 pp. 3-19.

  • Brown S. Eisenhardt K. 1998 Competing on the Edge. Strategy as Structured Chaos Harvard Business School Press Cambridge MA.

  • Castellani B. 2018 Brian Castellani on the Complexity Sciences Art & Science Factory 9 February (16.09.2018).

  • Checkland P. 2000 Soft systems methodology: A thirty year retrospective Systems Research and Behavioral Science vol. 17 pp. 11-58.

  • Ciliers P. 1998 Complexity and Postmodernism Routledge London.

  • Eisenhardt K.M. Brown S.L. 1998 Competing on the edge: Strategy as structured chaos Long Range Planning vol. 31 no. 5 pp. 786-789.

  • Eisenhardt K.M. Sull D.N. 2001 Strategy as simple rules Harvard Business Review vol. 79 no. 1 pp. 106-119.

  • Eisenhardt K.M. Piezunka H. 2011 Complexity Theory and Corporate Strategy [in:] Allen P. Maguire S. McKelvey B. (eds.) Handbook of Complexity and Management SAGE London pp. 506-523.

  • Foerster H. von 1982 Observing Systems. A Collection of Papers by Heinz von Foerster Intersystems Publications Seaside CA.

  • Gell-Mann M. 1995 What is Complexity? Complexity vol. 1 no. 1 pp. 16-19.

  • Glasersfeld E. von 1995. Radical Constructivism: A New Way of Knowing and Learning The Farmer Press London.

  • Gleick J. 1987 Chaos: The Making of a New Science Viking Press New York.

  • Holland J.D. 1995. Hidden Order. How Adaptation Builds Complexity Basic Books New York.

  • Kauffman S. A. 1995 At Home in the Universe. The Search for Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity Oxford University Press New York Oxford.

  • Lakoff G. Johnson M. 1995 Metaphors We Live by University of Chicago Press Chicago.

  • Lashinsky A. 2006 Chaos by Design. The Inside Story of Disorder Disarray and Uncertainty at Google. And Why It’s All Part of the Plan. (They hope.) FORTUNE Magazine vol. 154 no. 7 2 October (15.04.2018).

  • Lissack M.R. 1999 Complexity: The science its vocabulary and its relation to organizations Emergence vol. 1 no. 1 pp. 110-126.

  • Lloyd S. 2001 Measures of complexity: A non-exhaustive list IEEE Control Systems Magazine vol. 21 no. 4 pp. 7-8.

  • Luhmann N. 1995 Social Systems Stanford University Press Palo Alto CA.

  • Mantzavinos C. 2016 Hermeneutics [in:] Zalta E.N. (ed.) The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter Edition) (27.12. 2016).

  • Mesjasz C. 2010 Complexity of social systems Acta Physica Polonica A vol. 117 no. 4 pp. 706-715 (10.04.2012).

  • Mitchell M. Crutchfield J.P. Hraber P. 1993 Dynamics computation and the “edge of chaos”A re-examination SFI Working Paper: 1993-06-040 (17.04.2015).

  • Pawelec A. 2006 The death of metaphor Studia Linguistica Universitatis Iagellonicae Cracoviensis vol. 123 pp. 117-121.

  • Prigogine I. Stengers I. 1984 Order out of Chaos Bantam New York.

  • Searle J. R. 1995 The Construction of Social Reality The Free Press New York.

  • Snowden D. Stabridge P. 2004 The landscape of management: Creating the context for understanding social complexity E:CO vol. 6 no. 1-2 pp. 140-148.

  • Stacey R.D. 1992 Managing the Unknowable: Strategic Boundaries Between Order and Chaos in Organizations Jossey Bass San Francisco.

  • Stacey R.D. 2000 Strategic Management & Organizational Dynamics. The Challenge of Complexity Pearson Education Limited Harlow.

  • Stacey R.D. Griffin D. Shaw P. 2000 Complexity and Management. Fad or Radical Challenge to Systems Thinking Routledge London.

  • Waldrop M.M. 1992 Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos Simon & Schuster New York.

  • Weaver W. 1948 Science and complexity American Scientist vol. 36 no. 4 pp. 536-544.

  • Wiener N. 1961 Cybernetics: Or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine Hermann & Cie Paris MIT Press Cambridge MA.

  • Wittgenstein L. 2002 Philosophical Investigations [German Text with a Revised English Translation] Blackwell Publishers Blackwell.

Journal information
All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 0 0 0
Full Text Views 64 64 12
PDF Downloads 54 54 10