Dr. Esko Kilpi

Esko Kilpi is founder and principal in Esko Kilpi Oy, a leading research and consultancy firm working with the challenges of knowledge work and digital work environments. The organization is based in Helsinki, Finland. In addition to his work as an executive adviser Esko Kilpi takes part in academic research and lectures on the topics of organizational learning, knowledge based view of the firm and interaction technologies in Nordic countries, Europe, Middle-East, Far-East and USA. He has published various articles on these subjects and is the co-author of a book on teams and process management (1996) and books on management challenges of the information age (2001, 2006, 2006). Esko Kilpi is frequently invited as a key note presenter in management conferences globally. As an international consultant he advises public sector organizations and leading global multinational companies. His teaching and research interests are about organizational contexts, where creative learning takes place and organizational dynamics for emergence of coherence and novelty. A large part of his work has concentrated on principles of organizational viability based on complexity sciences and theories of complex responsive systems. At the moment Esko Kilpi’s work has focused on open source and social software implementations in organizational contexts. Esko Kilpi has been a member of the advisory board of the World Bank on Knowledge Management. He has also been a member of the expert think tank on Knowledge Management for the European Union.

MODULE - Complexity in organizations The implications of complexity sciences and chaos theory to the way we see entrepreneurship, organizations and the way we manage organizations and manage knowledge and learning


The aim of the module is to express a particular way of understanding knowledge intensive corporations of today. We discuss complexity in organizations. We emphasize the self-referential, reflexive nature of human interaction. We examine the responsive and participative nature of human processes of relating and the radical unpredictability of their evolution. We draw from complexity sciences and the work of complexity researchers who focus on the emergent and radically unpredictable aspects of complex systems.

Short description

Instead of thinking of an organization as if it were a thing, a person or persons we aim to think of an organization as the patterns of peoples’ interactions with each other. We explore the assumptions made when we talk about organizations that learn or when we talk about individuals learning in organizations. We suggest that purposeful action and continuous learning is an activity of interdependent people and organizing efficient action or organizing learning or knowledge creation is about organizing activities of interdependent people. Much of the communicative activities of people in organizations take the form of repetitive patterns. But because of the nonlinear iterative nature of human interaction there is always the potential for small differences to be amplified into transformative shifts. Learning is thus understood as the emerging shifts in the patterns of communicative interaction. Knowledge arises in complex responsive processes of relating between people. This means that knowledge itself is continuously reproduced and potentially transformed. Knowledge cannot thus be seen as a thing, but an active, perpetual process of relating. Taking this view we need to alienate from thinking about just another category called organizational knowledge and that it can and must be managed as a separate combined set of things owned by the corporation. Knowledge creation is seen as an active process of communication between humans. It follows that knowledge is not stored but continuously constructed. Knowledge is not shared as mental content but all the time arises in action. Knowledge is not transmitted from one mind to another but is the process of relating.

Course Structure

Part One – Different ideas about how to understand what’s going on and how to get things done The scientific method Stability, control and change Part Two – Different views about organizations The historical context What is self-organizing? Part Three – Complexity and the emergence of coherence and novelty Mainstream thinking about knowledge and learning The emergence of knowledge in complex responsive processes of relating Part Four – Complexity and people Identity and communication The individual and the social. Moving away from the split Part Five – Moving towards the future. Dealing with anxiety and dealing with the living present Complex adaptive systems Chaos theory

Selected readings

Waldrop, M., Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Chaos and Order, Touchstone Press, 1992- An excellent starting point for understanding how complexity theory came to be, accompanied by mini-biographies of the personalities involved in developing the theory (including Stuart Kauffman). Kauffman, S., At Home in the Universe, Oxford Press, 1995 - a readable adventure for those interested in just a bit more detail about life at the edge of chaos and theories of self-organization. Kauffman, S., The Origins of Order, Oxford Press, 1993 - more than enough detail about the mathematics and in-depth science of self-organization and Kauffman's theories about what Charles Darwin missed in the original presentation of natural selection. Holland, J., Emergence: From Chaos to Order, Addison-Wesley, 1998 - an imminently readable treatise on the ideas behind emergence, agent-based modelling, genetic algorithms, game theory and current applications of them from a rather top-level perspective. Holland, J., Hidden Order: How Adaptation Builds Complexity, Addison-Wesley, 1995 - a bit more detail on the theory and development of genetic algorithms, including some original work in the definition of agents and agent-based modelling; well-worth reading. Epstein, J., and Axtell, R., Growing Artificial Societies: Social Science from the Bottom Up, Brookings Institution Press, 1996 - an outstanding review of complexity theory as applied to the agent-based model within the Sugarscape modeling environment (built by Epstein and Axtell); a very good review of agent-based modelling with detailed agent descriptions. Epstein, J., Nonlinear Dynamics, Mathematical Biology, and Social Science, Addison-Wesley, 1997 - for the more analytically inclined, this work discusses the mathematics and sciences of complexity in a variety of settings, including military combat, ecosystems, and the spread of illicit drugs. Davis, S. and Meyer, C., Blur: The Speed of Change in the Connected Economy, Perseus Books, 1998- a basic overview of how the new, interconnected economy is reflecting more and more of the principles of complex adaptive systems, covering the principles of effects on people, the organization and its products and services. Farrell, W., How Hits Happen: Forecasting Predictability in a Chaotic Marketplace, HarperBusiness, 1998 - another very readable work on the application of complexity theory to business, with a focus on trying to explain what is happening within the new economy and how it effects us all. Petzinger Jr., T., The New Pioneers, Simon and Schuster, 1999 - a personalized look at who in business is applying complexity theory (whether they are aware of it or not) and what have been the effects of understanding the interconnected world and economy at an almost grass-roots level; very readable and written from the perspective of someone who has been following this phenomenon in the Wall Street Journal for many years. Kelly, K., Out of Control: The New Biology of Machines, Social Systems and the Economic World, Addison-Wesley, 1994 - one of the first popular books on Complexity Theory and how it touches all aspects of nature, both created and built; a must read for basic understanding of the popular science approach to complexity theory. Other books of interest Boisot, Max H. 1998. Knowledge Assets. Oxford University Press, Oxford Brown, John Seely and Duguid, Paul. 2000 The Social Life of Information. Harvard Business School Press, Boston Christensen, Clayton M.. 1997. The Innovators Dilemma. Harvard Business School Press, Boston Davis, Stan and Meyer, Christopher. 2000. Future Wealth. Harvard Business School Press, Boston Evans, Philip and Wurster, Thomas S. 2000. Blown to Bits. Harvard Business School Press, Boston Garvin, David A. 2000. Learning in Action. Harvard Business School Press, Boston von Krogh, Georgh, Ichijo, Kazuo and Nonaka, Ikujiro. 2000. Enabling Knowledge Creation. Oxford University Press, Oxford Lissack, Michael and Roos, Johan. 1999. The Next Common Sense. Nicholas Brealey, London Nalebuff, Barry J. and Brandenburger, Adam M. 1996. Co-opetition. HarperCollinsBusiness, London Rifkin, Jeremy. 2000. The Age of Access. Penquin Books, London Senge, Peter. Kleiner, Robert. Roberts, Charlotte. Ross, Richard. Roth, George and Smith, Bryan. 1999. The Dance of Change. Nicholas Brealey, London Stacey, Ralph D. 1996. Complexity and Creativity in Organizations. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, San Francisco Teece, David J. 2000. Managing Intellectual Capital. Oxford University Press, Oxford Weick, Karl E. 2001. Making Sense of the Organization. Blackwell Business, Oxford Wheatley, Margaret J. 1999. Leadership and the New Science. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, San Francisco