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Can businesses be more creative and ethical?

Complexity conference

Wednesday 17 and Thursday 18 September 2003

The first aim of any business is to survive - but can creative and ethical thinking actually improve their chances of survival?

A conference at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) on Wednesday 17 and Thursday 18 September 2003 aims to give businesses a new perspective on organisational development, based on complexity theory.

This theory - originated in the natural sciences by, among others, Nobel Prize winners Murray Gell Mann and Ilya Prigogine, then developed by various academics over the last 40 years - is being used by organisations to create the conditions for innovation and creativity and to support an ethical triple bottom line. This approach stems from the idea that organisations themselves are complex natural organisms, adapting and co-evolving to survive within a constantly changing social ecosystem. A company might be described as 'like an ant hill' or 'like a human body' but complexity theory puts organisations themselves under the microscope and aims to dissect the way they operate and co-evolve to survive in the greater world environment.

The conference at LSE aims to introduce business people to the ways in which practical applications of complexity thinking can boost an organisation's creative and ethical thinking, for example:

  • At Rolls Royce Marine, human resources director Terry Stock has been leading a project to introduce complexity thinking into the organisation, which is currently implementing a whole suite of recommendations that arose from the joint project with the Complexity Group at LSE. A total of 16 members of the Rolls Royce, Accelerated Leadership Development team, took part in the project and the recommendations had the blessing of the Marine Executive Board.
  • Former Humberside Training and Enterprise Council chief Peter Fryer also put complexity ideas into practice over a five year period, with remarkable results. He said: 'Through seeing the organisation as a complex adaptive system and acting accordingly, we were able simultaneously to free up the energies of our people and to cut costs, both to a remarkable degree. Everyone's energies were concentrated on doing what was in the best interest of the business and we were able to adapt to a rapidly changing environment with greater speed and effectiveness.'
  • Roland Kupers, vice president of sustainable development at Royal Dutch/Shell Group, said: 'Complexity, as it has developed over the past decades as a new discipline, can help organizational leaders gain insight into the dynamics of change within their companies. The challenges surrounding sustainable development require those leaders to look at the interconnections between their companies, societies and the eco-systems in a new light. A deeper insight into the systemic nature of those interconnections is essential to come to grips with the issues and to define policies and plans to address them.'

Professor Eve Mitleton-Kelly, group director of the LSE Complexity Research programme, said: 'No business wants to be a dinosaur. The best companies survive by co-evolving with their environment, and using techniques which natural and social scientists have observed and written about in relation to other complex systems. Being creative and being ethical are major assets in your long-term survival. These academic theories underpin very practical applications that can result in more sustainable businesses.'

To register for the conferences please email Anna Wielopolska at A.M.Wielopolska@lse.ac.uk| 


Contact Eve Mitleton-Kelly at E.Mitleton-Kelly@lse.ac.uk| 
Judith Higgin, LSE Press Office, on 020 7955 7582 or j.a.higgin@lse.ac.uk| 


Professor Mitleton-Kelly is also Coordinator of Links with Industry and Government for the new European Network of Excellence (called Exystence) funded by the EC, which started in April 2002.

Conference details so far:

17 September Ethics, Complexity and Organisations.
Keynote speakers:

  • Peter Corning, The Basic Problem is Still Survival, And an Evolutionary Ethics is Indispensable. Institute for the Study of Complex Systems, Palo Alto, USA
  • Paul Cilliers, Do Modest Positions Have to be Weak? Complexity, Knowledge and Responsibility. University of Stellenbosch, South Africa.
  • Alfredo Capote, E-transformation - a Threat or an Opportunity for Human Beings? ITESM, Mexico
  • Roland Kupers, Sustainability, Innovation and Complexity: the dynamics of implementing sustainable development objectives in a company. Vice-president of sustainable development, Royal Dutch/Shell.

The Complexity Group at LSE has been working since 1995 on the theory of complex social systems and its application to practical problems. Business partners include BT, Citibank (New York), GlaxoSmithKline, the Humberside TEC, Legal & General, Mondragon Cooperative Corporation (Basque Country), Norwich Union, Rolls-Royce (Aerospace & Marine), Shell (International and Shell Internet Works), the World Bank (Washington DC), AstraZeneca and several companies in the Aerospace industry. These business partners take an active role in research projects and help fund the Complexity Research programme.

Updated 21 July 2003