Complexity refers to the extent to which an individual or organization differentiates and integrates an event. Differentiation is the number of distinctions or separate elements (i.e., factors, variables) into which an event is analyzed. Integration refers to the connections or relationships among these elements.
Persons who are high in cognitive complexity are able to analyze (i.e., differentiate) a situation into many constituent elements, and then explore connections and potential relationships among the elements; they are multidimensional in their thinking. Complexity theory assumes that the more an event can be differentiated and the parts considered in novel relationships, the more refined the response and successful the solution. While less complex people can be taught a complex set of detailed distinctions for a specific context, high complexity people are very flexible in creating new distinctions in new situations.
Research on complexity shows some of the following conclusions of relevance to managers:
* Information: Complex people tend to be more open to new information, rely on their own integrative efforts than new information, seek more novel information, search across more categories of information, and are less externally information bound. They tend to take in more information and form more well rounded impressions than less complex persons.
* Attraction: People of high complexity are attracted to each other and to less complex people, while people of lower complexity are usually attracted only to each other based on similar content (e.g., similar attitudes).
* Flexibility: Complex persons are more flexible in thinking, and may demonstrate more fluency of ideas in creativity.
* Social Influence: Less complex persons are more stable in attitudes, more prone to polarize on an issue, and less affected by environmental changes. However, attitude change may be easier when incongruent information is made highly salient. In contrast, highly complex persons change attitude more easily; presumable because they consider greater variety of information resulting in more moderate attitudes.
* Problem Solving: Complex people tend to search for more different kinds of information when faced with a decision problem. They are often less certain after a decision, especially if verification is unavailable.
* Strategic Planning: Complex individuals are better strategic planners due to consideration of more information, from more perspectives, and greater flexibility in considering alternatives. They usually develop more inclusive long range goals, consider wider range of implications, and develop more complex develop strategies.
* Communication: Complex persons are more effective at a communication-dependent task. They are more resistant to persuasive attacks if inoculated (e.g., have been trained in counter arguments).
* Creativity: Flexibly complex persons are able to generate more novel, unusual, and potentially remote views and actions.
* Leadership: Leaders are generally more complex but must be able to be flexible across situations as the environment changes. They are also high integrators in which they are able to relate complex patterns of many elements.
Greater complexity may not be helpful or useful under certain conditions:
* When the person is unable to "turn off" complex perceiving, processing, or responding when it becomes inappropriate.
* When the problem requires a rapid and simple response.
* When the environment or organizational culture is incompatible with complexity.
* When a high degree of openness does not permit closure on a decision.