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The traditional view of conflict, as a problematic condition always requiring reduction or elimination and whose conditions or outcomes can be predicted, is incompatible with a complex adaptive systems view of organizations. Thus, conventional approaches to reducing conflict are often futile because the fundamental properties of complex adaptive systems are the source of much organizational ‘conflict.’ In this paper we offer an alternative view of conflict as pattern fluctuations in complex adaptive systems. Rather than needing reduction or elimination, conflict is the fuel that drives system growth and enables learning and adaptive behaviors, making innovation possible. Instead of focusing on conflict reduction, managers are advised to encourage mindfulness, improvisation, and reconfiguration as responses to conflict that enable learning and effective adaptation.
Published in Emergence: Complexity and Organization,10 (1): 23-38.