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A THEORY: ORGANIZATIONAL CHANGE

INTRODUCTION


In Spring 1750 children began to disappear from the streets of Paris: little mites and even big boys of 14 and 15. People blamed the authorities. Street fighting broke out.  Bad harvests had caused migration to the cities. An Edict of 1749 ordered a roundup of all homeless in Paris; children included. Constables, paid per arrest, were overzealous in scooping up any child any where they could find them. Rumour had it that Louis XV was a leper and leprosy (it was thought) could cured by washing in the blood of children. The frightened king fled Paris. There was a real danger of revolution. But the riots died down. Did the events of 1750 prefigure those of 1789? Why in one case was the extent of change limited and in the other much less so. We can rationalise ex post. 

Why are some changes limited and others not? Does a correspondence exist between changes in physical and changes in social systems? What is the nature of change? Is there explanation that applies generally to change in business and change in society? Does the fall of companies fall into the same class of problems as the fall of nations or systems or into the same class as the emergence or extinction of species? Does the co-evolution within an ecological system correspond to the evolution of products, firms, industries, economies or technologies? Are the processes that bring sudden revolutionary financial, economic and political change (stock market collapses, the end of business or national empires) driven by the same class of processes to the sudden calamitous changes in the physical world? Is change the inevitable outcome of events outside the control of organizations (outer dynamics)? Or is a degree of self adaptation or self determination possible (inner dynamics)?

The paper argues that there is an underlying algorithm of change, underlying many of these questions, taking the form of a possibility frontier, to which organizations, gravitate; on which change on all scales is probable; on which change on some scale or other is continuous; on which small degrees of change are more likely than large degrees; on which organization of all forms are poised, held perilously there by an organizational grammar.

The theory is summarized by a possibility frontier and the paper examines the foundations of this frontier, which relates the size of change to the probability of its occurrence. First, we set out foundations, in the form of a general theory of organizational change based upon the notion of an organization as a matrix of independent and interdependent activities. Second, the nature of the possibility frontier, is described as an attractor where evolution is possible and towards which, organizations gravitate. Third, we distinguish between ergodic changes as on the possibility frontier and non ergodic change produced and influenced by oganizational grammar 

 

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