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Complexity scholars have identified two distinct drivers of emergence: (1) Far-from-equilibrium dynamics that trigger order creation, and (2) adaptive tension (McKelvey, 2004) which can push a system toward instability, leading to the emergence of new order. In this paper I suggest that both are true but incomplete. For example, when drawn out to the extreme, a far-fromequilibrium framework generates a contradiction by suggesting that the most dynamic organizations are the ones farthest-from-thermodynamic equilibrium – like Exxon or GE for example. Adaptive tension portrays the effect of a dynamic push without identifying the cause. I suggest “Opportunity Tension” as an alternative, which captures the entrepreneurial passion inherent in the drive for order creation and emergence. Opportunity Tension occurs in “pulses,” each cycle leading to a new dynamic state of the system. At a broader level, this model is captured by the notion of “dynamic disequiibrium” (Chiles et al., in press), a construct that indeed moves us far from the issues raised in far-from-equilibrium approaches.


This paper was originally presented at the Organization Science Winter Conference, 2007.

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