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Table 1 Distinctive properties of complex systems (adapted from references [9, 10, 14])

From: Understanding contexts: how explanatory theories can help



Prominent properties


The coming together of individual agents in the absence of central control to form new organizational programs and structures

 Non-linear behaviors

Large inputs result in small changes in output and vice versa


Organizational behaviors change in response to environmental changes

 Emergent properties

Qualitatively new phenomena, including structures, capabilities, and behaviors, that arise unpredictably from the interaction of independent agents

Subtle properties


Internal and external boundaries between domains and decision-making levels are often “fuzzy”


Many actions are guided in practice by internalized rules that are informal and not consciously recognized


Small subsystems are commonly embedded within larger, more complex systems


Internal tensions among agents and groups are inherent, i.e., they cannot be eliminated but can be managed