New Society Learns Lessons From Nature

November 12, 2002

Dr Elizabeth McMillan from the Open University is a co-founder of the Complexity Society which will bring together academics, researchers, and members of the public who are all fascinated by radical new ways of structuring and running organisations – utilising concepts from chaos theory, complexity science and evolution.

These new approaches use living case studies from the natural world as examples of how businesses can organise themselves, challenging long-held views developed more than 300 years ago by classical scientists and thinkers.

Dr McMillan says the society has a number of aims:

“We want to bring people together who are enthusiastic about complexity science and give it a ‘home’ in the UK. We want to spread information about complexity science, informing and educating policy makers and individuals alike, and we want to put into practice the successful models we have identified by observing the natural world.”

There are numerous successful example of how complexity science has been applied in the real world. For example, BT researchers have studied ant colonies, jellyfish and slime moulds because they recognise that the biological world is highly effective at tackling complex problems and have used the knowledge gleaned from such research to develop robust telecom networks.

Revco Drugstores in the United States have also used ant foraging patterns to create more effective assembly lines for their national distribution centre.

“Principles identified through complexity science are also being applied in the medical world,”

“For example, there is a medical group looking at complexity science as a way of thinking differently about patient care and treating diabetes.

“Learning from the natural world is inherently useful because it offers valuable insights into innovative, efficient, sustainable and creative ways of working. The natural world and living species have been tested over millennia by evolution and have developed amazing ways of organising and surviving in a harsh and very real environment. It’s therefore very possible that we might find some brilliant new ways of doing things if we look closely, sensitively and intelligently at the world around us.”

The Complexity Society will be launched on November 20 at Cranfield Management Development Centre when it holds it first national conference.

For more information about the society visit the website at


OU Media Relations

Fiona Leslie

01908 653256