Streatfield (2001) offers a different view of innovation and change in organisations. Based on his work in the pharmaceutical industry, he sees the activities which make up an organisation as being messy, complex and of a form which cannot be reduced to simple, wholly ‘controlled’ processes. Uncertainty is a fundamental aspect of work in any organisation, even in sectors such as pharmaceuticals which some outside of the industry might assume is a highly mechanistic and controlled process. Consequently, Streatfield suggests that an organisation should be characterised ‘as complex responsive processes of relating in which patterns of meaning emerge’.
This gives two very different views of leading and managing quality, one based on measurement, within a predictable and closely defined environment, where variability is consciously reduced, leading to planned conformity. The alternative is to see organisations as complex, at least in part, unpredictable entities which are characterised as networks both internally, and in connections externally. Here, Streatfield argues that control needs to be of a different type, ideally a form of working within a paradox of ‘being in control’ and ‘not being in control’ at the same time. This is partly the result of a view of organisational change based on emergence. One way of understanding the nature of emergence is provided by Davis and Sumara (2006):
- decentralised control and neighbour interactions: change is developed in the interaction between the personal and social. Individual and collective interests should be mutually supportive rather than inherently competitive and it is the interaction between neighbours which allows for the development and emergence of new ideas and perspectives. However, to allow the development of rich neighbour interactions, it is essential that change is not controlled from a single point; any group must be given a level of decentralised capability.
- internal diversity and redundancy: systems need to be able to react in different ways to different situations to ensure a diversity of insights to aid innovative solutions to problems. However, for such diversity to be present there needs to be a level of duplication within the system, such as shared responsibility and interests. It is this duplication which allows for easy interaction within the system and for elements to compensate for inadequacies which reside there.
- Freedom and coherence: within any system there must be potential for the exploration of possibilities resulting in the opportunity for personal agency and the diversity identified above. However, whilst this inclusion of freedom is central to the emergence of change, complex systems are not chaotic and require a level of coherence to orientate the activity of the actors within the system. Coherence imposes a loose framework within which individuals can operate freely whilst creating frameworks for coherence.
Therefore, in organisational change there is a need for greater flexibility than that afforded under strict, quality controlled, and reductive approaches. However, it is important that the system has coherence and direction. If change is accepted as being an emergent set of processes, affected through the interaction and insight of individuals across the organisation, leaders cannot expect to be wholly in control. However, leaders do have a crucial role in setting boundaries (coherence) allowing for neighbour interactions and drawing together the narratives from across the organisation to help it develop in coherent ways. In this sense, Streatfield argues that leaders need to see themselves as being both in control and not in control at the same time. It is how they navigate this paradox which determines the quality and form of formal change which the organisation is able to create.