Doctor of Philosophy
School of Economics and Information Systems - Faculty of Commerce
Sundarasaradula, Doy, A thermodynamical perspective on organisations: their structure and evolution, PhD thesis, School of Economics and Information Systems, University of Wollongong, 2006. http://ro.uow.edu.au/theses/101
The aim of this research is to generate a better understanding and an insightful explanation of the nature and characteristics of organisational structure and evolution through the synthesis of thermodynamics and traditional organisational theories. As living systems, formal organisations need specific energy fluxes not only for their existence, but also for change and evolution, which are the key features that enable them to survive and prosper.
The synthesis of thermodynamics and traditional organisational theories can be actualised through the application of the theory of dissipative structures and the theory of self-organisation both of which are based upon non-equilibrium thermodynamics. According to these theories, energy flowing through the systems can create temporal order and organisation as well as changes within these systems provided that their logical structure is autocatalytic.
In this thesis, a system dynamics model, which is based upon two hypothetical organisation archetypes with different logical autocatalytic structure, has been developed. The model is used as a platform for simulation experiments in different scenarios with different assumptions. The experiment results suggest following findings:
• Organisations can be understood as interrelated cycles of activities that manifest themselves as sinuous movements or oscillations. These wavy motions are interpreted as an organisation’s temporal structure.
• An organisation’s living state, represented by its oscillating activity, depends on a proper combination of resource availability without which this state is not achievable.
• The openness attributed to organisations allows them to influence and be influenced by their environment.
• Organisations with different logical structure behave or response differently to the same environment.
• Organisations adapt to a change in their environment by increasing activity or scale of operation in an environment in which resources are increasing and vice versa.
• Changes in organisations in a complex environment are characterised by discontinuities and chaos. Note that this finding is contradictory to the traditional organisation theories as far as discontinuity is concerned.
This research confirms the validity of thermodynamics in clarifying and explaining subtleties inherent in organisational phenomena. The findings thus contribute to the body of knowledge concerning the nature and characteristics of organisational structure and evolution.
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