12 August 2006

Complexity, Dissipative Structures, and... Corn Starch?

Those who are following my excursions into complexity and organizations, and are new to this sort of thinking, might be asking, "so what does a dissipative structure look like?" Well, actually, it looks something like this (ignore the "flagged as inappropriate" tag - nothing inappropriate, offensive or unsafe for work here):

The surface of the corn starch solution begins in a state equilibrium as a liquid. Add energy by shaking it, and the surface becomes a dissipative structure far from equilibrium - accelerated by the addition of energy. The introduction of perturbations in the surface - blowing an indentation - creates a bifurcation point that leads to a new, stable structure at a higher degree of complexity. Increasing the energy creates new instability until the system finds a new bifurcation point, and a new stable structure emerges.

The organizational moral of the story? When you shake up your organization, plan for a period of chaos before it reaches a new, relatively stable, emergent organizational form. That final form will be unpredictable based on what came before, and requires the continual input of energy to retain the new form. Otherwise, it will all just collapse into a goopy mess!

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Candy Minx said...

Hi Mark,

Just found your interesting blog and am likely going to link it to mine. some cool stuff here. I like how you talk about many different subjects.


Gaiyasudeen A Syed said...


i am professional project manager, undertaking research (PhD) in using the COmplexity theory principles as a lens for project management framework. Happy to be part of your discussions.

best luck