Has managing complexity found a historic early pioneering voice? (R. Sullivan)

The early thinkers and pioneers of management thinking Taylor, Fayol and Weber spoke for order, control and obedience as the key parts of "scientific management". They have cast a long shadow into the present day. But there were other thinkers who advocated other approaches and amongst them we find Mary Parker Follett, an advocate of "Dynamic Administration" and a different relationship between leader and follower.

Parker Follett's interest in the social processes in organizations arose from her study in political science and her experiences in social work. Writing in her book 'The Giving of Orders' in 1925 she proposed 'the law of the situation' and advanced some ideas that are very relevant to organisations and leaders dealing with complexity:

" It is often very apparent that an order is a symbol. The referee in the game stands watch in hand, and says, 'Go'. It is an order, but order only as symbol. I may say to an employee, “Do so and so," but I should say it only because we have both agreed, openly or tacitly, that that which I am ordering done is the best thing to be done. The order is then a symbol. And if it is a philosophical and psychological truth that we owe obedience only to a functional unity to which we are contributing, we should remember that a more accurate way of stating that would be to say that our obligation is to a unifying, to a process ".

This brings us now to one of our most serious problems in this matter of orders. It is important, but we can touch on it only briefly; it is what we spoke of as the evolving situation. I am trying to show here that the order must be integral to the situation and must be recognized as such. But we saw that the situation was always developing. If the situation is never stationary, then the order should never be stationary, so to speak; how to prevent it from being so is our problem. The situation is changing while orders are being carried out, because, by and through orders being carried out. How is the order to keep up with the situation? External orders never can, only those drawn fresh from the situation. Moreover, if taking a responsible attitude toward experience involves recognizing the evolving situation, a conscious attitude toward experience means that we note the change which the developing situation makes in ourselves; the situation does not change without changing us.

According to P. Follet: "To summarize, what have we learned on the subject of the giving of orders? That, integration being the basic law of life, orders should be the composite conclusion of those who give and those who receive them; more than this, that they should be the integration of the people concerned and the situation; more even than this, that they should be the integrations involved in the evolving situation. If you accept my three fundamental statements on this subject: (1) that the order should be the law of the situation; (2) that the situation is always evolving; (3) that orders should involve circular not linear behaviour - then we see that our old conception of orders has somewhat changed, and that there should therefore follow definite changes in business practice".

(Extract from The Giving of Orders, P. Follet 1925)