Re: Stages in Chaos Theory LO2871
Mon, 18 Sep 1995 21:55:21 -0400

Replying to LO2859 "Stages in Chaos Theory"

Hi Ginny Belden,

The four stage model you refer to was first proposed in ecology by C.S.
Holling in "The resilience of terrestial ecosystems: Local surprise and
global change" in Sustainable Development of the Biosphere, edited by W.C.
Clark and R.E. Munn, 1986, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, England.
Together with a colleague I applied it to human organizations in D.K.
Hurst and B.J. Zimmerman, ""From life cycle to ecocycle: A new perspective
on the growth, maturity, destruction and renewal of complex systems",
Journal of Management Inquiry 3, no.4 (December):339-354.

In my recently published book "Crisis & Renewal: Meeting the Challenge of
Organizational Change" Harvard Business School Press, 1995 I take the
model one step further to allow for the fact that humans (unlike trees)
have the capacity to be rational actors. The resulting 8 stage model
integrates three perspectives on management action, which have usually
been thought of as mutually exclusive:

1. Emergent Action: managers are free to act but ignorant -- their
problems are unanalysable: the classical entrepreneurial situation.(Forest
equivalent: the open patch)

2. Rational Action: managers understand cause-and-effect relationships and
are free to act on that knowledge: the business schools' favourite
assumption.(No forest equivalent)

Constrained Action: managers know what to do, but are constrained by the
system and unable to act: the population ecologists' point of view.(Forest
equivalent: the mature forest)

The resulting model is an "infinity loop", which adds a cycle of renewal
to the familiar life cycle. It also bears a striking systemic resemblance
to the Taoist Tai Chi symbol.


David Hurst (
Speaker, Consultant and Writer on Management