Rethinking Management Of Educational Organizations Commerce Essay


In todays dynamic changing environment and despite the efforts of educational organizations to stabilize, still a high degree of uncertainty exists. This explarotory study affirms that applying chaos theory principles in higher education institutions can provide a better understanding of how to manage in a turbulent environment. Second, discusses the philosophical approach of chaos theory as foundation for organizational change. Hence, encourages education managers to abandon linear thinking and rethink chaos metaphor as means to define and manage intangible assets as key building blocks of educational organizations' new value chain. The researcher affirms BÜlbÜl and ErÇetin (2010) point of view that chaos theory will be the topic investigated in the future more. The evolving body of knowledge states the impact of chaos theory on management philosophy and the growing amount of literature by researchers in management who drew from the science of chaos and applied it to management science.

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Keywords: Education, Management, Chaos, Complexity, Systems, Initial Conditions, Strange Attractors, Knowledge, Decisions, Intangible Assets, Value Chain


Morgan (2006) illustrated the power of metaphor in shaping organizations' management and stated that the ultimate challenge lies in the ability to integrate the contributions of different points of view rather than a single metaphor old or new. Organizations are open systems in constant interaction with its context, transforming inputs into outputs as a means of creating the conditions necessary for survival. Changes in the external environment are source of major problems and continuous challenges to which modern organizations must respond. In other words, organizations as systems are engaged in circular patterns of interaction whereby change in one element of the system will cause changes in different parts of the system. Nevertheless, changes do not arise because of external influences; but they are the results of variations within the overall system that modify the basic mode of organization.

Banathy (2000) pinpoints that the basic principle of the systems' theory is that the whole is more than the sum of its parts, that the whole determines the nature of the parts, and the parts are dynamically interrelated and cannot be understood in isolation from the whole. Thus, systems regarded as having four major characteristics: (1) systems are goal oriented; (2) systems have inputs from their environment; (3) systems have outputs to achieve their goals; (4) and there is feedback from the environment about the output.

Therefore, it is crucial that organizations move towards appreciating the idea of systemic interdependence to make major breakthroughs and develop future approaches for development.

Based upon the idea that non-linear systems such organizations are characterized with complexity, chaotic characteristics, unpredictable events and interconnected relationships. It is argued that over time organizations are transformed and common processes of spontaneous self-organization can be detected. Thus, both the chaos and complexity theories will help define system behavior under the influence of different "attractors", and invite managers to rethink organization management with a mindset that allow them to facilitate the process rather than try to pre-design and control in a more traditional way. Thus, managers have to become skilled in helping to shape the parameters that can help to shape emergent processes of self-organization; while avoiding imposing too much control. In other words, managers will help creating the conditions under which the new context can emerge to create a new understanding of the situation and to engage in new actions that will encourage double loop-learning.

Brief Overview of Chaos and Complexity Theory

From one hand, Kippenberger (1999) emphasized that although chaos theory originates from mathematics and natural sciences; it has found its way into the broader management literature and is considered a potentially powerful new perspective to view organizations. However, general acceptance of the theory as a useful tool for managers has been limited. On the other hand, Mehralizadeh and Hosseinzadeh (2007) found that chaos theory ideas have a dramatic impact in educational management. As a result, they assumed that applying the principles of chaos theory onto educational organizations would provide a foundation for education managers to articulate the nature of change and its determinants.

BÜlbÜl and ErÇetin (2010), claim that educational systems are chaotic systems because of their non-linear, complex structure. Therefore, an educational organization as a highly complex system is a classical example of a non-linear system that exhibits chaotic behavior of a complex system. In addition, Swenk (2001) proposes adopting chaos theory to identify patterns within systems that initially appear chaotic, furthermore asserts its applicability to planning for higher education and explains, "Strange attractors organize the system despite turbulence, establish its boundaries and give it a general direction for the future. Attractors allow actors within the system to make decisions consistent with the organization's collective identity, purposes, and goals."

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According to Mason (2007) several chaos and complexity concepts have relevance to business. The central concept is self-organization; this continuous self-organization allows and encourages an infinite variety of creative responses to emergence from changing environments. This emergence is the second important concept, it happens when the system's parameters change, leading to a movement towards disorder. Chaotic systems continuously reorganize themselves into new patterns of relationships and from these new patterns, new possibilities for action emerge. The third important concept is feedback. Together positive and negative feedback can act as countervailing forces on the system, pushing the system towards instability and at the same time damping changes to increase stability, and so balancing at the "edge-of-chaos" where systems have the capacity to grow, learn and evolve. The fourth important concept is sensitive dependence in initial conditions. While, patterns known as attractors are the fifth important complexity concept.

The "edge-of-chaos" attractor known as a "strange attractor" reflects the area where the maximum creativity and innovation happens. This transition between order and chaos is the point at which sensitive dependence on initial conditions causes small inputs to cause big changes. A unique feature of the strange attractor is that it always stays within certain boundaries and therefore behavior is broadly predictable within these boundaries, but never identical.

Mason (2007) also argued that management in a complex and turbulent environment should be organic, with the manager concentrating on creating an internal environment conductive to co-evolution. Decision making should be decentralized, learning and experimentation facilitated and change encouraged. Management must provide the information to support this approach and control must be exercised through self or group control. This can be called self-organizing management. Therefore, the current paper examines the use of chaos theory as a way to help explain and enhance the understanding surrounding complex education system. The effective application of chaos theory should help us to expand the theoretical base of knowledge to draw upon when assessing how to manage an educational institution.

The terms "chaos" and "complexity" are considered relatively new in the management and organizational literature; Van Eijnatten and Putnik (2004) note that these terms have appeared since 1900, but it was not until the latter part of the 1980s that they were further defined and used to reflect a field of study in the management and organization literature. Furthermore, Van Eijnatten et al. (2003) explain that Chaos theory and its descendent complexity theory affirm that chaos and order in organizations are not opposites, but complementary, ongoing states required for change.

Schumman (2010) explained that the new science of complex systems is moving us away from a linear, mechanistic view to one based on non-linear dynamics, evolutionary development and systems thinking. The linear, deterministic, stable, mechanistic, and closed system with the simplistic view of linear causality, the ability to predict, control and manipulate are no longer applicable. While, non-linear, complex adaptive systems are the order of the day with an affirmation of networks, linkages, feedback, impact, relationships, interactivity, emergence, self-organization and open system mechanism that replace simple causality. (Table 1)

Table Difference between linear systems and non-linear systems

Linear System

Non-Linear System

Initial Conditions

not important

very important










Source: Galbraith, P. (2004)

A complex adaptive system consists of a large number of agents, each of which behaves according to its own principles of local interaction. No individual agent, or group of agents, determines the patterns of behavior that the system as a whole displays, or how these patterns evolve and neither does anything outside the system. (Stacey et al., 2000) The complexity theory suggests that complex adaptive systems or societies, are comprised of "agents of a variety of types (who) use their strategies in patterned interactions" to promote social selection based upon environmental context and pursuit of personal and group goals (Davis, 2007).

From this point, it is argued that the educational settings consists of human agents who make choices about their actions; they have hierarchal structures and networks; the system behavior is dynamic and unpredictable; educational institutions exist within wider systems which influence and are influenced by it. Indeed educational organizations shape and adapt to macro and micro societal changes, organize themselves in response to external and internal constraints and pressures, consequently respond to and shape their communities and society. Thus, exhibit many features of complex adaptive systems (Table 2). Systems fall into various "classes" of behavior. One classification used by some complexity scientists put systems into four categories (Class I, II, III, and IV) according to the nature of their global dynamics and the shape of their attractor.

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Table 2 Simple, Complex and Complex Adaptive Systems

Simple Systems


systems which are complex


Adaptive Systems

Number of States

few possible states

more possible states

huge number of possible states


connections between components are fixed

components are dispersed and completely free to interact locally

components (agents) are dispersed and free to interact locally within a hieratical structure


Simple behavior predictable

Disorganized (Chaotic) behavior largely unpredictable

Emergent behavior with pockets of unpredictability

Source: Battram (1998)

There has been relatively little work done in applying chaos theory to education management field of study. Yet, Bonabeau and Meyer (2001) emphasize that applying chaos theory has led managers to an entirely new way of approaching business problems and understanding the complex systems with which they operate. Therefore, considered as a potential tool that can help explain why the unpredictability occurs within non-linear systems.

Nevertheless, it is argued that a better understanding of the chaos theory will inevitably help managers enhancing the decision making process and the management process of education institutions. Also,

Burns (2002) asserts that chaos theory is an explanation of the behavior of a system. While, Doherty and Delener (2001) state that chaos theory postulates that a sensitive dependence on initial conditions is present so that a small change in the initial conditions can drastically change the long term behavior of a system.

Education Institutions and Chaos Concepts

In recent years, educational institutions are continuously seeking more effective systems to address the increasing dissatisfaction within the education system's performance. An increasing need for a renewed perception on educational institutions is required, thus in response to the necessity for reforming the educational system in line with the needs and expectations of the society and business sector. New approaches and practices in management and industry have appealed to the decision makers of educational institutions (Mizikaci, 2006). The education institutions are exposed to external interaction and influences through which they can acquire new properties as illustrated in (Figure 1).

Labor Market






Natural Environment



Education Organization

Figure 1 Externat Environnent Influences on Education Organisation

Educational institutions worldwide face a never-ending struggle to deliver valuable quality educational services with greater performance outcomes at higher accountability levels and to differentiate itself from other education providers while at the same time maintain a viable financial position. It is no longer sufficient to strive to be an institution of academic excellence.

Ziskovsky (2011) stresses that in today's world, academic excellence can only be possible by striving first to become institutions of operational excellence that requires everyone involvement in system thinking; customer focus; optimizing processes. The operational excellence based upon two fundamental and logical understanding: (1) outcomes produced by processes; (2) improved processes that will produce improved outcomes.

Therefore, in today's dynamic and uncertain global environment, educational organizations regardless its type or size need to understand the impact of poor quality on the "value" attributed to supplier-customer relationships and focus on the value of an effective system in creating sustainable competitive advantage in its local and global market.

Gilstrap (2005) clearly differentiated both chaos and complexity theories, that the first is used to describe non-linear, chaotic systems that are homogenous in nature and tend to move towards strange attractors; while the second portrays heterogeneous complex adaptive systems that move towards one or more attractor patterns and contain the ability for "strong emergence". He referred to organizational units as chaotic systems and educational institutions as complex adaptive systems and emphasized that when applied in educational settings, we can see similarities to different organizational environments. However, an understanding of chaos and complexity theories will help providing answers to the paradoxes of complex education systems and yield further understanding to education management approaches.

Morgan (2006) identified that the creation of an environment where chaos theory can emerge will encourage the development of mind-sets and skills that focus on recognizing and changing patterns; thus will help providing a methodology for analyzing the systems' attractor patterns in order to change the trajectory.

Initial Conditions in the Education Context

Managing the education context should be handled differently from that of manufacturing or service industries. Education represents process oriented, intangible, and multiple stakeholders' situations. Most of the performance measurement systems of education in general and higher educational institutions in specific do not reflect the full range of interested stakeholders and are not easily linked to the strategic and quality management.

From one hand, Garvetson (2011) confirms the importance of the expectations of key stakeholders in the educational process; while, Avdjieva and Wilson (2002) suggest that higher education institutions are now required to become learning organizations, where internal stakeholders also interpret and assess the quality of higher education provision. On the other hand Lingo and Tepper (2010), identified a number of factors that may transform higher education: (1) the business case and the the demand for creative skills; (2) students who are active learners and problem solvers demanding new ways of learning; (3) and the escalating costs of higher education.

These challenges rise the importance of mainaiting sustainble competitiveness in the global economy; the need to develop innovative, non-routine ways for teaching and learning as well as engaging with students who are creatively productive beyond formal university environment. (Pachucki et al., 2010); and finaly the need to clearly answer the value question in the education setting; "producing graduates satisfying the demands of labor market." Where, the input is students and the output is educated college graduates ready to be hired.

Education systems' approach suggests an organizational understanding and conformity to decision-oriented evaluation approaches. Mizikaci (2006) asserts that decisions are made about inputs, processes, and outputs. Education managers face four different kinds of educational decisions: (1) context evaluation to serve the planning decisions; (2) input evaluation to serve the structuring decisions; (3) process evaluation to serve the implementation decisions; (4) and product evaluation to serve recycling decisions.

Conditions to Manage in Education Organizations

Processes' Management






Partnership and Resources




(Financial and Business results)





Core Processes

Core Processes

Supporting Processes

Development of Education

Execution of Education

Educational organizatioans are open systems that cannot survive without continuous interaction; this is reflected in the input, the transformation and the output stages. But also, (Figure 2) illustrates that the starting point for effectively managing an educational organization lies in the planning phase, followed by the executing phase, then the evaluation phase to examine the differences between the actual and the desired results. The evaluation has a double function, it is the basis for putting objectives into operation and is used for the action phase where adjustment of the activities and the human beings themselves take place.

Leaderhip: The leaders should develop and facilitate the acheivement of the vision and mission; develop values and goals required for long-term success through appropriate actions.

Strategy: The organisation should develop a clear focused stakeholders' strategy to implement its vision and mission, through a set of actions supported by relevant policies, plans and objectives.

People: The organization should develop people knowledge and use full potential of its people at the individual, team and organization levels, through people management activities.

Partnerships and Resources:The organization should plan and manage its exteranl partnerships and internal resources in order to support its strategies and effective operation of its processes.

Processes: how the organization plans, designs and manages its core and supporting processes to achieve its strategies, fully satisfy and increase value of its stakeholders.

Figure 2 Initial Conditions affecting Management of Education Organization

Since, a condition, either internal or external to the organization will have a significant effect on the performance of the organization or on its future interests if it continues (Jaques, 2007).

Therefore, It was necessary to specify the conditions that managers in educational organizations can use to create new understanding of the educational system behavior and to help create a responsive and informed organization. Yet, figure 2 depicts the initial conditions affecting management of educational organizations.

Those conditions are not intended to predict future outcomes, but rather to be investigated as initial conditions that can influence the decisions in adaptive complex organizations such as educational organizations.

Sensitivity to initial conditions is often explained by the "butterfly effect" where a small change, could have a huge impact. Davis (2007), argued that the butterfly effect refers to how obscure actions may affect an outcome and serves as a metaphor in understanding the breadth of influence, and the importance of influence on effectiveness. On the other hand, Due to the sensitivity to initial conditions, it is not possible to predict how a non-linear system will evolve. This has important implications for example,"What is best in one specific educational context may not work in another.

"The sensitivity to initial conditions mean that identical actions in one environment will mean little by way of outcome if lifted and put in another setting. Even within a single setting, irreversibility (a construct of chaos theory) means that each action occurs at a unique point in time that has never been before and will never be again. Yet despite these cautions, chaos theory has much to inform those that study organizations." (Sloan, 2011)

Development of Education

Stakeholders Requirements

Plan Programs/Courses

Design Curriculum

Design Teaching Process

Design Assessments

Design Learning Environment

Execution of Education

Implement Teaching Process

Implement Learning Process

Human Resource Management

Financial Management

Supply Chain Management

Information Management Systems

Library Services

Quality, Health and Safety Management Systems

Administrative Services

Core Processes


Education Organization





Determine the direction, choose the strategy, specify goals and objectives, set plan for implementation

Implement strategies, allocate resources, manage processes, and deploy plans

Evaluate actions and make improvements if plans are not well implemented

Assess and measure to check if plans have been well implemented

Supporting Processes

Students and Staff

Funding entities and donors

Accreditation and Audit Bodies



Labor Market/Industry


Other stakeholders' groups

Hence, the researcher finds it imperative to promote the theoratical perceptive of chaos theory in managing educational organizations, where the systemic thinking of people, processes and environment interacting together will explain that the overall behavior of the educational system emerges from the combined effect of patterned behavior arising from agents interacting according to their own principles. (Figure 3)

Figure 3 Education Organization's processes and stakeholders

Strange Attractors in the Education Context

These terms come from chaos theory. Attractors describe a particular state of behaviour to which a system is drawn. An important feature is that it can "flip" the behaviour of a system from one pattern to another. From one hand, Pascale et al. (2000), explained that attractors are pervasive in chaotic systems, they act as magnetic forces that draw complex adaptive systems towards given trajectories.

On the other hand, Stacey (2003) suggests that the use of strange attractor can help describing human interaction. Consequently, strange attractors can lead to strong emergence in complex educational environments. Applying the concept of strange attractors to education management, rise the question which elements are acting as strange attractors in the education context?

Mitleton-Kelly (2003) states that an organisation might be considered to be a social ecosystem, where various constituent parts evolve together as they are connected and interdependent. In educational settings, multiple information flows serve as a critical component of chaotic systems, leading to complex adaptive systems.

In the non-linear educational organization, a high degree of people participation in the education processes is required at the level of individual; departments and colleges. Thus, many agents are involved in the development and execution of the education processes along with the the decision making process. Which means that tacit knowledge is developed and exchnaged through conversations, formal and informal which will speed up organizational learning.

Although, there are a number of variables involved in the management of education system; Turner (2007) noted that in this context complexity is not a matter of how many variables are involved in the explanatory models of education, nor of how many factors are involved in a particular situation. Rather the complexity in education resides with the fact that it involves human beings, thus involves a stream of decisions.

Therefore, the researcher suggests that all stakeholders involved in the education processes are considered strange attractors, because the more people are involved, their decisions and actions will result in unexpected outcomes and will initiate unforseen events. Strange attractors do not necessarily have to act in a positive manner, they can also have a negative impact on the whole process.

Yet, people are the constituents of learning organizations and the only competitive advantage within a complex system; enhancing people's capacities to learn will enable transfer of knowledge into practices, procedures and processes.

Meanwhile, to faciliate learning at different organizational levels it is strongly advised to reinforce Senge's disciplines idividual learning to enhance information acquisition; team learning to enhance skills development and organizational learning to enhance a greater understanding of system thinking. Reinforcing these types of learning in the educational organizations will engage people in single and double loop learning respectively. Knowledge Management



Cross-Functional Teams


Therefore, it is argued that relationships between knowledge management, individuals, cross functional teams are key constructs in activating the learning loop. Thus enable empowerement and standardization of strange attractors skills. (Figure 4)

Figure 4 Standardize Strange Attractors Skills

In the educational context, team building is deemed to be an essential construct in the shared learning process and knowledge co-construction. By means of chaos theory, the interplay between people, processes and purpose will explain that the process can be directed to a new path due to decisions' taken, thus unpredicatbility occurs.

By accepting the fact that not everything can be predicted and controlled, stimulating the interaction of strange attractors as well as introducing changes in organizational behaviour will enable organizations "self-evolve" within the complexity framework.

Education Management Value Chain

Some of the previous studies on this theme (Gabriel, 2005; Makkar et al., 2008) have rejected the application of Porter's value chain in the context of higher education and proposed an alternative chain for institutions of higher education. However, Pathak (2010) state that recent trends in higher education make it possible to unbundle the academic process into discrete activities which have well developed measures to distinguish between value driving and other activities; to configure the value chain as per the Porter's model; and to explore critical linkages between activities.

But the researcher argues that there are multiple knowledge exchange mechanisms; the most important of these involve people interactions. Where the education management process can be disrupted as different individuals with different priorities become involved. Therefore, exploiting and developing the intangible assets can be seen as an effective control mechanism of the intellectual capital. However, identifying where and how value is created by intangible assets is the key question. Nevertheles, Najmaei and Sadeghinejad (2009) assert that in knowledge economy competitiveness emanates from intangible competencies which are basically built upon knowledge-based capabilities. Therefore, the researcher propses new building blocks of educational organizations' value chain with clear focus on Marr and Adams (2004) classification of intangible assets framework consisting of: (1) human capital; (2) organization or structural capital; (3) relational capital; and (4) educational service as key value drivers contributing in learning and growth perspective in the education context. (Figure 5)

Figure 5 Proposed Value Chain in Educational Organizations

The educational organizations' value chain is an interconnected network of value-adding activities; each of which receives many inputs and combines them in order to deliver value added outputs. From one hand, the human capital that relates to the skills-sets, aptitudes and attitudes of the organization's human resources whilist the organizational capital is more complex since it has to segregate the knowledge retained and owned by the organization from the human capital. On the other hand, he relational capital refers to the organizations' relationships with its stakeholders.

Therefore, acquiring the inputs to develop and execute educational activities that add value to stakeholders and deliver excellent educational service require tracing interdependant value-adding decisions in the value chain. However, creating value in decision making processes requires having the right information at the right time.

From this point of view, the researcher suggests that using chaos theory principles, paying attention to the initial conditions, examining the impact of decisions made and identifying underlying repeated patterns of behaviour will provide useful information to help managing educational organizations' value chain


There has been relatively little work done in applying chaos theory to education management field of study. The researcher highlighted that one of the problems facing educational organizations is its non-linear system that reconciles the essential pillar of unpredictability and emergence of distinctive patterns of behavior. Yet, by understanding educational organizations as complex adaptive systems, managers can use chaos theory as means to rethinking education management processes, thus could provide new perspective for understanding how educational systems relates to actions and decisions of agents and how interactions create emergent patterns that influence the organization and change its trajectory.

This implies that individual and group learning is a prequisite for adaptation, learning and for sharing knowledge. The researcher thus confirms Kleiman (2011) statement that "Complex adaptive systems, such as a learning/teaching situation, are like eco-systems: they are constantly changing and evolving, and their complexity means that the ability of human agents to control them in any meaningful, purposeful way is non-existent. Such systems are adaptive in that they are self-evolving, agile and, importantly, inherently unpredictable." Thus, the paper illustrated that management of educational organizations pertains not only avoiding imposing too much control, but also creating the conditions under which the new context can emerge to create a new understanding of the situation and to engage in new actions that will encourage double loop learning.

The paper's contribution lies in introducing chaos theory as useful theorectical framework for understanding the complex interactions within the educational settings; and identifying that multiple knowledge exchange mechanisms in educational organizations led the researcher to recognize that the educational organizations' value chain must be built upon managing knowledge-based capabilities and tracing value-adding decisions. Hence, classified intagible assets as proposed key building blocks of educational organizations' new value chain