Chaos Theory Chaos Theory According to Chaos Theory, a very small change can later make a big difference in an organization, both positive and negative.

Chaos Theory

According to Chaos Theory, a very small change can later make a big difference in an organization, both positive and negative.  According to Lewin’s Planned Change Theory, when the three phases of Lewin’s process for change are used correctly, effective change is implemented.  Kotter expanded upon Lewin’s theory to devise an 8-step model for implementing change. 

1. Describe a problem situation at your institution where a very small change later made a negative impact and how understanding Chaos Theory could have benefited your organization?

2. Choose Lewin’s Planned Change Theory or Kotter’s 8-Stage Planned Change Model and briefly describe how you would implement each step for planned change to better address the problem situation you described above.

Responses need to address all components of the question, demonstrate critical thinking and analysis and include peer-reviewed journal evidence to support the student’s position.

Please be sure to validate your opinions and ideas with citations and references in APA format.  

Theoretical Basis for Nursing

Book by Evelyn M. Wills and Melanie McEwen

Complexity Science, Chaos Theory and Complex Adaptive Systems

The Newtonian-based theories of Western science that emerged from the Enlightenment period were “causal

models,” which focused on linearity, homeostasis, order, equilibrium, predictability, and control. These

concepts formed a sort of invisible template that constrains many scientists from examining the “noise” or

variation in their data (e.g., outliers). An emerging postmodern science of nonlinear dynamic systems—

Complexity Science—takes science “outside that box.” Simply stated, Complexity Science focuses on finding

the underlying order in the apparent disorder of natural and social systems and understanding how change

occurs in nonlinear dynamical systems over time (Walsh, 2000; Vicenzi, 1994).

Complexity Science (CS) is not a single theory but an evolving paradigm. Its focus is on the


interconnection between individual units or agents that seek to explain relationships among variables and

behaviors that are not fully predictable (Kauffman, 1995). Furthermore, CS examines the systems of diverse

interacting agents to identify how they evolve and maintain order (Lindberg, Nash, & Lindberg, 2008).

CS has been applied to various fields including weather forecasting, economics, neuroscience, and

organizational behavior (Engebretson & Hickey, 2017). In health care, an understanding of complexity and

nonlinear systems is important because “chaos” may be observed in the physical body in heart rhythms,

electrical brain activity, and chemical reactions (e.g., neurotransmitters), as well as in other structures or

organizations. The interdisciplinary application of CS has steadily gained momentum since the 1990s and is

considered “essential” in advanced nursing education (Box 13-6). This section will introduce Chaos Theory,

an early example or precursor of CS, and Complex Adaptive Systems, to be followed by a discussion of how

CS is being applied in nursing and health care.

Box 13-6 American Association of Colleges of Nursing Essentials

Chaos theory and Complexity Science are mentioned several times in The Essentials of Master’s Education

in Nursing (American Association of Colleges of Nursing [AACN], 2011). Specifically noted is that the

master’s degree program should prepare the graduate to “ . . . demonstrate the ability to use Complexity

Science and systems theory in the design, delivery, and evaluation of health care” (p. 12).

In addition, the DNP essentials (AACN, 2006) describes “complexity” with respect to practice and within

the health care setting numerous times, suggesting the need for graduates of DNP programs to understand the

concept and nature of complex systems.

Source: AACN (2006, 2011).

Chaos Theory

Chaos Theory has its origins in meteorology in the 1960s (B. M. Johnson & Webber, 2010). Chaos Theory is

the study of unstable, aperiodic behavior in deterministic (nonrandom) nonlinear dynamical systems.

Dynamical refers to the time-varying behavior of a system and aperiodic is the nonrepetitive but continuous

behavior that results from the effects of any small disturbance. Based on Chaos Theory, natural and social

systems change and ultimately survive because of alterations or disturbances and nonlinear behavior.

One of the key concepts of Chaos Theory is sensitive dependence on initial conditions—the notation that

even a small difference can lead to dramatic, divergent paths. Because equilibrium is never reached in a

dynamic system, trajectories that start from “arbitrarily close” points will ultimately diverge exponentially

(Walsh, 2000). This sensitivity to initial conditions is commonly referred to as the “butterfly effect”—where

hypothetically, a butterfly flapping its wings on one side of the world can cause a tornado the next month on

the other side of the world.

In Chaos Theory, a strange attractor (strange because its appearance was unexpected) is similar to a

magnet that exerts its pull on objects to return them to their original starting point. These patterns can be

graphed in a way that illustrates the change behavior of the system (Haigh, 2008). Figure 13-4 is an example

of a strange attractor showing chaotic motion from a simple three-dimensional model; note the butterfly


Figure 13-4 Three-dimensional model of a strange attractor.

A bifurcation is a sudden change or transition that will lead to a period of doubling, quadrupling and so

forth at the onset of chaos (Walsh, 2000). This change occurs when a system is pushed so far from its steady

state that it is unable to recover and a chaos or crisis state is reached. At this point, the system arrives at a

“fork in the road”—a choice of two or more alternative steady states, each different from the first (Prigogine


& Stengers, 1984). The history of the system is influential as to which choice is made. When stressors again

impact the system, the process is repeated. At each crisis point, the system reaches a bifurcation with choices.

With successive bifurcations, choices become increasingly limited. A diagram of bifurcations would resemble

a decision tree (Ward, 1995) or, with a more familiar analogy, the human vascular system.

Chaos is natural and universal and can be found in such diverse phenomena as the human heartbeat and

the world economy (Vicenzi, 1994) and may be applied to brain wave patterns, as well as explaining complex

lifestyle-choices or decisions (Coppa, 1993; Ray, 1998). Although chaos may cause uncertainty, it also offers

opportunities that can create hope and bring about change; both are integral components of nursing practice

(Haigh, 2008).

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