Many of us are troubled by questions that haunt our work. Why do so many organizations feel dead? And why have our expectations for success diminished to the point that often the best we hope for is staying power and patience to endure the disruptive forces that appear unpredictably in the organizations where we work? During the past fifteen to twenty years, books that translate new science findings for lay readers have proliferated, some more reputable and scientific than others. I have been reading of chaos that contains order; of information as the primal, creative force; of systems that by design, fall apart so they can renew themselves; and of invisible forces that structure space and hold complex things together.
I believe our present ways of understanding organizations are skewed and that the longer we remain entrenched in our ways, the farther we move from those wonderful breakthroughs in understanding that which the world of science calls “elegant”. In many different disciplines, we live today with questions for which our expertise provides no answers. We should embrace our despair as a step on the road to wisdom, encouraging us to sit in the unfamiliar seat of not knowing and open ourselves to radically new ideas. I believe that we have only just begun the process of discovering and inventing the new organizational forms that will inhabit the twenty-first century.

Einstein is often quoted as saying : “No problem can be solved from the same consciousness that created it”. There are many places to search for new answers in a time of paradigm shifts. We must learn to see the world a new. Intentionally or not, we work from a world view that has been derived from the natural sciences. Each of us lives and works in organizations designed from Newtonian images of the universe. This is a world of wonder and not knowing, where scientists are as awestruck by what they see as were the early explorers who marvelled at new continents.
There are no recipes or formulae, no checklists or advice that describe “reality”. There is only what we create through our engagement with others and with events. Nothing really transfers; everything is always new and different and unique to each of us. We inhabit a world that is always subjective and shaped by our interactions with it. What are the sources of order? How do we create structures that move with change, that are flexible and adaptive, even boundary less, that enable rather than constrain? How do we resolve personal needs for freedom and autonomy with organizational needs for prediction and control?
Scientists in many different disciplines are questioning whether we can adequately explain how the world works by using the machine imagery created in the seventeenth century, most notably by Sir Isaac Newton. The Newtonian model of the world is characterized by materialism and reductionism - a focus on things rather than relationships and a search, in physics, for the basic building blocks of matter. In new science, the underlying currents are a movement toward holism, toward understanding the system as a system and giving primary value to the relationship that exist among seemingly discrete parts.
The quantum mechanical view of reality strikes against most of our notions of reality strikes against most of our notions of reality. Even to scientists, it is admittedly bizarre. In other disciplines, especially biology, the use of non mechanistic models is much more recent. At the outer edges of accepted practice (although gaining slowly in credibility) are theories like the Gaia hypothesis, which sees the earth as a living organism actively engaged in creating the conditions which support life, or Rupert Sheldrake’s morphogenetic fields, which describe species memory as contained in invisible structures that help shape behavior. Some of what we know how to do, Sheldrake argues, comes not from our own acquired learning, but from knowledge that has been accumulated in the human species field, to which we have access.
In Chemistry, Ilya Prigogine won the Nobel Prize in 1977 for his work demonstrating the capacity of certain chemical systems (dissipative structures) to regenerate to higher levels of self-organization in response to environmental demands. In older, mechanistic ,models of natural phenomena, disruptions would only more quickly bring on the delay that was inevitable future of all systems. But the dissipative structures that Prigogine studied demonstrated the capacity of living systems to respond to disorder (non-equilibrium) with renewed life.
New science is also making us more aware that our yearning for simplicity is one we share with natural systems. In many systems, scientists now understand that order and conformity and shape are created not by complex controls, but by the presence of a few guiding formulae or principles. The world described by new science is changing our beliefs and perceptions in many areas, not just in the natural sciences.
Leadership, an amorphous phenomenon that has intrigued us since people began studying organizations is being examined now for its relational aspects. Ethical and moral questions are no longer fuzzy religious concepts but key elements in our relationship with stuff, suppliers and stakeholders. More and more studies focus on follower ship, empowerment and leader accessibility. In motivation theory, our attention is shifting from the enticement of external rewards to the intrinsic motivators that spring from the work itself. The impact of vision, values, and culture occupies a great deal of organizational attention. We see their effects on organizational vitality, even if we can’t quite define why they are such potent forces.
As we let go of the machine models of work, we begin to step back and see ourselves in new ways, to appreciate our wholeness, and to design organizations that honor and make use of the totality of who we are. Our concept of organizations is moving away from the mechanistic creations that flourished in the age of bureaucracy. We are beginning to recognize organizations as systems, construing them as “learning organizations” and crediting them with some type of self-renewing capacity. Some believe that there is a danger in playing with science and abstracting its metaphors because, after a certain amount of stretch, the metaphors lose their relationship to the tight scientific theories that give rise to them. I share the sentiments of physicist Frank Oppenheimer who says: “If one has a new way of thinking, why not apply it wherever one’s thought leads to? It is certainly entertaining to let oneself do so, but it is also often very illuminating and capable of leading to new and deep insights” (in Cole 1985,2).