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Eric Bonabeau & Christopher Meyer (2001) have devised a simple “cocktail party” game that they use to introduce complexity dynamics. Imagine a party in which everybody present is instructed to follow a simple rule: Silently select two people at random, A and B, and position yourself so that A is always between you and B. Under these conditions, the party-goers will wander around the room, forming small, transient groups and meeting a number of people. Then halfway through the party the rule changes: Instead of positioning A between yourself and B, position yourself in the middle between A and B. The dynamic changes, and everyone drifts together into a tight cluster.
The point of the exercise is to demonstrate a common element of dynamic behavior and complexity theory: that complex, unscripted behavior can emerge from simple rules. Complex, unscripted behavior is the theme of complexity theory and serves as the backdrop for this special issue of The Leadership Quarterly. Complex behaviors can be catalyzed by a number of dynamics, and they are useful because they generate creativity, learning, and adaptability. In this issue, the editors posed the question, “What role does leadership play in complex interactive dynamics?” This broader question generated more specific questions, such as: What is leadership? How are complex dynamics coordinated and motivated? What implications do emergence and adaptive tension have for organizations and leadership? How are traditional top–down leadership styles and emergent bottom–up processes coordinated in complex adaptive systems? How do leadership processes unfold over time? And, how can dynamic leadership processes be studied?