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The Art of Continuous Change: Linking Complexity Theory and Time-Paced Evolution in Relentlessly Shifting Organizations

Shona L. Brown and Kathleen M. Eisenhardt
Administrative Science Quarterly
Vol. 42, No. 1 (Mar., 1997), pp. 1-34
DOI: 10.2307/2393807
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2393807
Page Count: 34
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The Art of Continuous Change: Linking Complexity Theory and Time-Paced Evolution in Relentlessly Shifting Organizations
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Abstract

In contrast to the punctuated equilibrium model of change, this inductive study of multiple-product innovation in six firms in the computer industry examines how organizations engage in continuous change. Comparisons of successful and less-successful firms show, first, that successful multiple-product innovation blends limited structure around responsibilities and priorities with extensive communication and design freedom to create improvisation within current projects. This combination is neither so structured that change cannot occur nor so unstructured that chaos ensues. Second, successful firms rely on a wide variety of low-cost probes into the future, including experimental products, futurists, and strategic alliances. Neither planning nor reacting is as effective. Third, successful firms link the present and future together through rhythmic, time-paced transition processes. We develop the ideas of "semistructures," "links in time," and "sequenced steps" to crystallize the key properties of these continuously changing organizations and to extend thinking about complexity theory, time-paced evolution, and the nature of core capabilities.

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