Organizational Development as Generative Entrenchment

Published in Entropy, 2022

Recommended citation: Moser, C., & Smaldino, P. E. (2022). Organizational Development as Generative Entrenchment. Entropy, 24(7), 879.

A critical task for organizations is how to best structure themselves to efficiently allocate information and resources to individuals tasked with solving sub-components of the organization’s central problems. Despite this criticality, the processes by which organizational structures form remain largely opaque within organizational theory, with most approaches focused on how structure is influenced by individual managerial heuristics, normative cultural perceptions, and trial-and-error. Here, we propose that a broad understanding of organizational formation can be aided by appealing to generative entrenchment, a theory from developmental biology that helps explain why phylogenetically diverse animals appear similar as embryos. Drawing inferences from generative entrenchment and applying it to organizational differentiation, we argue that the reason many organizations appear structurally similar is due to core informational restraints on individual actors beginning at the top and descending to the bottom of these informational hierarchies, which reinforces these structures via feedback between separate levels. We further argue that such processes can lead to the emergence of a variety of group-level traits, an important but undertheorized class of phenomena in cultural evolution.

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