• Coherence in the Midst of Complexity

    Complexity and emergence (the appearance and impact of the new) can be the bane of managers and their organizations. Both complexity and emergence threaten to upset adherence to predefined categories, which supposedly allows for efficiency. Indeed, traditional management thinking focuses on a retrospective coherence where ideas and events are assigned to categories, the categories are labeled, and outliers are treated as statistical deviants. The study of how such attributed (retrospective) sense-making breaks down in and around organizations is the focus of social complexity theory. Coherence in the Midst of Complexity discusses the social complexity approach, where dialogue and stories allow for the degrees of freedom needed for the opportunities of emergence to take root. The book focuses on the experience of coherence and how such experiential lessons differ from the establishment and maintenance of categories and labels. .

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    Miracles and Nasty Surprises

    The Failure of Models & Labels; the Success of Experience & Emergence

    Two Kinds of Coherence Ascribed and Emergent

    Models, Homologies & Simulacra

    The Ascribed Coherence of Thagard and Weick

    Coherence and Business Success

    Emergence, Coherence & Narrative

    Affordances and Organization

    Homology: Sense-Making Revisited

    But Experience is Different

    Complexity Tools: the Semiotic Square & Homology

    Steps to Implementation

    Sample Chapter

    Two Kinds of Coherence

    Ascribed Coherence (codes)

    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 (cues, context, narrative)

    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. Resilent coherence is about how we have an ongoing willingness to act and the stories we tell ourselves to amke sense of it all.

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    Practical Applications

    Applying Social Complexity Theory to an Organization

    Certainty is a willingness to act. Applying Social Complexity Theory can help create that willingness within a organization by asking its members critical questions: How do I look at the world? What values am I enacting/embodying? What boundaries am I drawing to determine relevance? What time frame am I considering? What languaging and embodiment choices am I making? Am I considering the context of the others with whom I must deal?

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  • Overview of Social Complexity Theory

    Social Complexity Theory examines the role of coherence and emergence in organizations. Coherence is regarded by many psychologists as critical to day to the day productivity and effectiveness of individuals. Both scholars and managers have adapted this belief to the world of management and organizations. Coherence is regarded as a sign of a well-run organization. But, the concept of a coherent thought defined as how well an idea holds together as a single entity gradually breaks down as the scale shifts to individuals, groups, and ultimately larger organizations. 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 measurement against definition (what we call ascribed coherence) managers and organizations implicitly are restricting their ability to deal with the unknown, the uncertain and the emergent.

    Social Complexity Theory provides another perspective on coherence -- 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. The aim of Social Complexity Theory is to teach managers and members of organizations to make use of some very different models as part of their coping mechanisms.

  • The Authors


    Hugo Letiche is a Research Professor at the Universiteit voor Humanistiek, Utrecht, The Netherlands, where he has directed the mid-career practitioner PhD program. He has published in Organization Studies, Culture & Organization, JOCM, E:CO / Emergence, Revue Sciences de Gestion, Society Business Review etc.; and (co-)written seven books; and had chapters in some forty others.


    Michael Lissack is the Director of the Institute for the Study of Coherence and Emergence (ISCE) and a serial entrepreneur. He founded both a non-profit research institute and a charity for artists, launched an international PhD program in corporate anthropology, has written half dozen books, been a successful Wall Street banker, and a candidate for public office.


    Ron Schultz is Founder and Executive Director of the microfinance/micro-lending program, the Social Enterprise Zone and Lending4Change and the author of a number of books including Adjacent Opportunities: Sparking Emergent Social Action, and Unconventional Wisdom, Open Boundaries: Creating Business Innovation through Complexity.

    Available for Consulting

    The authors are available for both speaking and consulting assignments.

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  • Video Presentations

    Hugo Letiche on Affordances

    Video to come

    Michael Lissack on Codes and Cues

    video to come

    Ron Schultz on Resilience

    video to come

    Available for Consulting

    The authors are available for both speaking and consulting assignments.

    Send Email
  • Useful Links

    Social Complexity Theory
    Institute for the Study of Coherence and Emergence
    Emergent Publications
    More Links to Come

    The Authors
    Hugo Letiche
    Michael Lissack
    Ron Schultz
    More Links to Come