Sir Isaac Newton argued that the relationships between all physical elements can be measured, predicted, and controlled. Complexity theory, as developed in the 20th century by scientists such as the Nobel laureate chemist Ilya Prigogine, says otherwise, holding that the relationships of many physical elements and organisms are nonlinear. Some theorists in the social sciences have begun to recognize the adaptability of complexity theory to human systems. For example, one of its classic ideas—that “initial conditions make a difference”—which was originally discovered in meteorology simulations, is transferable to human relationships. Meeting an attractive person, say, or beginning an important project is affected by the precise context of when such an event happens in a sequence of other possibilities.

Inevitably, complexity theory became an umbrella concept that covers a wide span of influences in the hard and soft sciences—from chemistry and physics to communication and social psychology. It has this breadth because the more a focus on any given system, be it social or physical, is widened to include its supersystem (the layer of influences outside it, such as the weather, external politics, or technological change) and its subsystem (the layer below, such as subordinates, commodities, or outsourced functions), the more complex that system becomes. For example, SEMATECH, the computer research consortium developed in the mid-1980s to regain U.S. market share from Japan, has as its supersystem the computer industry; as its subsystem, it has its various suppliers of products and services. Complexity theory would say that it is impossible to understand SEMATECH as an organization without understanding the industry and its suppliers. And, in fact, a team of researchers documenting the SEMATECH story in the 1990s showed that the consortium’s leader, Robert Noyce, found it necessary for SEMATECH to invest in the supplier subsystem in order to improve chip-manufacturing performance.

Littlejohn, Stephen W and Karen A.Floss. (2009). Encyclopedia of Communication Theory.USA:SAGE.654

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Gayes Mahestu
Edwina Ayu Kustiawan