An Autopoietic Understanding of ‘‘Innovative Organization’’

Luhmann’s autopoietic theory offers a theory without a priori defined drivers of novelty. Such assumptions has led to claims  that Luhmann’s theory is relevant only to the study of routines and not to innovative processes, and that it prevents a satisfactory understanding of the phenomenon of innovation. We would argue differently, and say that autopoietic theory offers a way of conceptualizing how systems reproduce themselves in the face of novelty, further that it is the expected possibility of connecting to novelty that drives systems forward. The possibility of novelty is a central part, both of reproducing central features, and producing features for future operations. Possibilities for novelty arise as systems, as part of their recursive reproduction, draw distinctions amid a changing environment. The system reproduces itself recursively, pointing forward to possible connections, and at the same time connecting to previous operations. It is in this sense that a system may be understood as a ‘‘historical machine’’, or a ‘‘system-in-an-environment-with-a-history’’. We would argue that an autopoietic theory of organization is in fact also a theory of innovation. Without the possibility of novelty, autopoietic organization is hardly possible.


About Giorgio Bertini

Research Professor. Founder Director at Learning Change Project - Research on society, culture, art, neuroscience, cognition, critical thinking, intelligence, creativity, autopoiesis, self-organization, rhizomes, complexity, systems, networks, leadership, sustainability, thinkers, futures ++
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