Peter Drucker Forum 2013: “Managing complexity by understanding multiplex networks” by Stefan Thurner


“To manage a system means that you are able to predict the possible outcomes of actions you take. If you cannot predict the outcomes of management actions, you neither manage nor control the system: you are subject to luck, fate, external events and developments.”

What can we predict?


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Very little but it would be good if we could have some ideas of our outcomes. So, perhaps to begin with we need to know who we are.

A complex system is a co-evolving multiplex network which is not static but evolves over time. This becomes evident in the modern world where we have game changers in having computers, new maths and new data that allow us to study the dynamic networks. An example of this is a new CEO entering a firm and trying to understand the networks within the company.

Emails Thurner

Network of e-mail information flow.

Current research in the area of dynamic networks looked at information flows through sent emails and telephone calls. Having identified who talked with whom on a regular basis researchers were able to predict the information flows within the company that allowed them to encourage different departments to talk to each other and by doing so were able to increase cross over information and connectivity within the firm.

What is the usefulness of complex systems tools for managers?

Complexity arises through interconnectedness and networks. Therefore, if managers can map complex systems to dynamical co-evolving networks and can technically manage it they will have the possibility to conceptualise the firm as a multiplex network of communication flows.

The success of the firm network relies strongly on factors such as the current structure of the firm, its departments and hierarchies, the efficiency of communication flows, and the relate efficiency within the network structure.

Furthermore, it is crucial to monitor the outcomes of management decisions on communication networks by restructuring departments, monitoring restructuring events, identifying core employees, identifying ineffective communication flows (cycles) and trying to break cycles.

Overall, knowing about complex systems may give you the edge over others.


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