Embracing Complexity: Applications of Complex Systems Science to Healthcare Systems
It Takes Complexity to Beat Complexity
Mary Uhl-Bien, PhD is the BNSF Railway Endowed Professor of Leadership in the Neeley School of Business at Texas Christian University (TCU). She has also been a Visiting Scholar in Australia, Sweden, Portugal and Spain. Mary’s research focuses on complexity leadership, relational leadership, and followership, and has appeared in such journals as Academy of Management Journal, Journal of Applied Psychology, Journal of Management, and The Leadership Quarterly. Her research has been funded with grants from organizations such as Booz Allen Hamilton, and she has conducted research in partnership with Lockheed Martin, Bank of America, Disney, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Stryker. Her papers on complexity leadership theory and followership theory were recognized with Best Paper Awards. She is a founder of the Network of Leadership Scholars (NLS) in the Academy of Management, and is currently serving as Division Chair for the OB Division in the Academy. Mary is active in executive education nationally and internationally, teaching for the Brookings Institute, the Gallup Organization, and universities in both the U.S. and Europe. She served as the executive consultant for State Farm Insurance Co. from 1998-2004. She participated in a Fulbright-Hays grant to Mexico during the summer of 2003, trained Russian businesspeople for the American Russian Center at the University of Alaska Anchorage from 1993-1996 and worked on a USAID grant at the Magadan Pedagogical Institute in Magadan, Russia from 1995-1996.
*Paralleling Ashby’s (1956) Law of Requisite Variety, we know that “it takes complexity to beat complexity” (Boisot & McKelvey, 2010). Despite this, many healthcare systems respond to complexity with order. When they do this, they suppress the very dynamics needed to generate emergence and adaptability for the organization. Dr. Uhl-Bien will present research from a multi-case study of 6 healthcare systems in the U.S. over a two-year period. Her findings show that because current leadership approaches are grounded in bureaucratic organizing principles appropriate for the industrial age, they are driving the wrong kind of behavior for today’s complex environments. Instead, as purported in complexity leadership theory, we need new ways of thinking about leadership that enable organizations to operate as complex adaptive systems.
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