Taming complexity

Insights from biology, physics and business shed light on the nature and costs of complexity and how to manage it in business organizations.

Harvard Business Review 94, 1 (2020)

M. Reeves, S. Levin, T. Fink, A. Levina

Insights from biology, physics and business shed light on the nature and costs of complexity and how to manage it in business organizations.

In business, complexity gets bad press. That’s not surprising. It can be cognitively demanding to understand how a system or organization made up of many very different interconnected elements actually works. But the fact that such systems or organizations are difficult to understand doesn’t make them inherently bad. In addition to its more obvious costs, complexity confers critical benefits, especially in dynamic and uncertain environments. In the following pages we draw on our experience and perspectives in business, biology, and physics to offer some reflections on the nature, benefits, and costs of complexity and provide some guidance on managing it in business organizations.

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