Robert Axelrod, Michael D. Cohen

Harnessing Complexity Translated from english (United States) by Jean-Luc Fidel. Publication date : October 1, 2001

Recent research on the phenomenon of complexity have allowed us to better understand the idea of modern innovation, evolution, and adaptation. Two pioneers in this domain have created in this book a series of high-performance strategies and modes of organization, intended for leaders and managers in the business and public sector alike.
Drawing from their studies of evolutionary biology, computer science, and artificial intelligence, Axelrod and Cohen have created a model for improving group work. According to them, all forms of organization, in order to evolve and increase in performance and creativity, must take the form of what they call a Complex Adaptive System. This system is made up of three essential components.
The first is variation. Take, for example, the creation of a piece of software. Should the programmers be divided into sub-units, each working relatively independently, ot should they work as a hierarchical team, directed in a centralised manner? The example of Linux, a free-access system created by thousands of programmers, shows that one obtains the most outstanding results when one decentralizes production into various constituents.
The second component is interaction. Why is the north of Italy so wealthy, while the south remains so poor? A country, a region, even a non-profit organization must nourish internal interaction in order to successfully develop. The ties amongst members of a group favor cooperation and serve as an advantage over less cooperative groups.
The third component is selection. Competition has a positive effect on the quality of the organization, because the mean must constantly evolve in order to adapt to changing environments and challenges.
Faced with such complexity in a world growing increasingly interdependent, our natural tendency is to seek out simplicity, to reduce complexity. Here is a counterargument, based upon many examples drawn from various practical domains, to profit from modern complexity: to make decisions better, organize better, and work better.

Robert Axelrod is a professor of political science at the University of Michigan. He is the author of Donnant, donnant. Théorie du comportement de coopération, a reference work in game theory and strategy. Michael Cohen is a professor of computer science, also at the University of Michigan.