Social Complexity Theory

Social Complexity is the study of complexity as it is experienced in groups and organizations.

The most productive applications of complexity insights have to do with new possibilities for innovation in organizations. These possibilities require new ways of thinking, but old models of thinking persist long after they are productive. New ways of thinking don't just happen; they require new models which have to be learned. ISCE is dedicated to helping both practicing managers and academics acquire, understand and examine these new mental models.

Social Complexity Theory provides another perspective rooted in the felt experience of coherence and in the importance of emergence. Richard Rorty tells us, "Knowledge is not a matter of getting reality right, but rather a matter of acquiring habits of action for coping with reality." In common parlance such coping mechanisms are called "models." Ascribed, measured coherence focuses on how well a given item, person, situation etc. matches the assigned label. It also examines how well rule 'x' matches desired outcome 'y'. The underlying assumption is that the pairing of label 'x' and rule 'x' will produce desired outcome 'y'. Ascribed coherence is about codes and categories.

Resilient coherence is what we experience when we piece together a narrative explanation of our present context based on the cues available to us and our beliefs about the future and the past. Resilient coherence is about how we have an ongoing willingness to act and the stories we tell ourselves to make sense of it all.

Adapting to and dealing with emergence is perhaps the most important task facing managers and organizations. Coherence as traditionally defined interferes with that task.   By restricting the concept of coherence to ascribed coherence managers and organizations implicitly are restricting their ability to deal with the unknown, the uncertain and the emergent. The research mission of ISCE is to explore how to expand that understanding to include resilient coherence using the tools of second order science.

In 2015, ISCE created the Affirmative Consent Division to begin a social experiment in resilient coherence. Affirmative consent is an emergent response to changing social mores regarding sexual interactions. Members of our Affirmative Consent division are provided with a mobile application the aim of which is to change the context in which these interactions are discussed. Social complexity theory suggests that by embodying a contextual change and giving that embodiment the opportunity to acquire network effects, coherence can be reached in a "faster" manner. The Affirmative Consent Division is our attempt to see if this theoretical notion has any truth.