Supply networks and complex adaptive systems: Control versus emergence

Thomas Choi, Kevin Dooley, Manus Rungtusanatham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1013 Scopus citations


In much of the current literature on supply chain management, supply networks are recognized as a system. In this paper, we take this observation to the next level by arguing the need to recognize supply networks as a complex adaptive system (CAS). We propose that many supply networks emerge rather than result from purposeful design by a singular entity. Most supply chain management literature emphasizes negative feedback for purposes of control; however, the emergent patterns in a supply network can much better be managed through positive feedback, which allows for autonomous action. Imposing too much control detracts from innovation and flexibility; conversely, allowing too much emergence can undermine managerial predictability and work routines. Therefore, when managing supply networks, managers must appropriately balance how much to control and how much to let emerge.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)351-366
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Operations Management
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1 2001


  • Chaos theory
  • Complexity theory
  • Interdisciplinary
  • Operations strategy
  • Purchasing/operations interface
  • Supplier management
  • Supply network

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Strategy and Management
  • Management Science and Operations Research
  • Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering


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