InterJournal Complex Systems, 575
Status: Submitted
Manuscript Number: [575]
Submission Date: 20603
Comment on manuscript revision number 2021
Review for ICCS3: #402
Author(s): Anonymous

Subject(s): CX.43

Category: Brief Article


This is a paper with the ambitious goal of using complexity to understand important issues in small business research. The paper is one of many business and complexity books/papers that attempts to apply complex systems concepts in a metaphorical manner to problems and issues in organizational sciences. In the abstract to this paper, the authors state they wish to use complex systems concepts such as co-evolution, adaptation, and fitness as “metaphors” to provide "causal mechanisms" in order to understand small enterprises in society. This is a problematic statement. First, it is unclear to this reviewer how metaphors can provide causal mechanisms; doing science (whether in the natural or the social domains) is not just about metaphors. Second, as Hans J. Scholl (2000) has observed, there are difficulties to be dealt with when applying scientific approaches to different fields, particularly when the “adaptation remains narrative and in metaphorical domain, its value remains unproven.” Unfortunately, the authors show little awareness of such fundamental difficulties that have tremendous implications for their entire paper, nor do they attempt to explain what theoretical or methodological problems exist in the study of small enterprises that have compelled them to turn to the field of complex systems in the first place (with relevant references to the literature). Also, the paper is not well written, and tends to ramble in many places. Consequently, it is difficult to understand the main ideas the authors are trying to convey and to gauge the possible merit of these ideas. There are other problems. There are several places when the notion of “edge of chaos” is used (even in the last sentence of the paper). Unfortunately, this construct is one that while proposed by one of the big names in the field several years ago, has been seriously criticized recently (see papers on the subject by Melanie Mitchell on the SFI website). Also, it is a construct that is not currently being used by many in the field (e.g., Gell-Mann, 1994; Bar-Yam, 1997, Holland, 1995). If the authors feel this is an important construct for their research, they must provide a very clear rationale for it, and deal with the controversial nature of the construct in the literature. As it is, the term is used as yet one more piece of jargon, one for which the intended meaning is often elusive. The paper fairs a bit better when it discusses the case studies of the owners of the 3 small businesses. However, given the problematic and rambling nature of the analytical perspective the paper tries to articulate in the first part of the paper, the discussion of the cases comes across shallow and not convincing. Also, there would seem to be much more that could be said about the methodology for generating concept maps of the 3 company owners (referred to as “futures wheels” in the paper; should actually provide references to primary cognitive science references discussing concept mapping in addition to the secondary business reference). After all, doing research is about collecting and analyzing data. Indeed, some of the problems with the paper focusing too much on “metaphors” could be dealt with by a solid grounding on data that is powerfully analyzed using complex systems theoretical perspectives. In its present form, I cannot recommend this paper for publication in the ICCS3 conference proceedings. I do hope the authors consider revising this paper for the InterJournal, and that they take very seriously the challenges of incorporating concepts, theories, and methodologies from the field of complex systems and integrating them into business theories and research studies dealing with small businesses. A careful review of the literature dealing with such intellectual undertakings would be a good place to start, with the goal of moving beyond mere metaphorical descriptions. This is a very, very difficult type of paper to write, but writing it will be essential to bringing the potential power of complex systems ideas to bear on the significant problems facing organizations small and large in the business world.

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