Self-organization is the spontaneous emergence of spatio-temporal structures in systems composed of several distinct components. More concretely, it is the idea that, without the apparent intervention of an external agent, systems can be created, emerge, evolve, live and transform, thanks to an exclusively internal dynamic.
In a system that brings together living, or at least changing, components, the interactions between these components can contribute to the evolution of the entire system, to the point of giving it a value that is somehow superior to the simple sum of its parts. It is precisely the link between the theory of self-organization and the holistic approach of systems theory, which considers each system as a whole and whose existence cannot be explained by the separate consideration of its components.
This notion is mainly found in physics, chemistry or biology, where systems are created and evolve apparently without exogenous triggers, yet transforming themselves in a visibly predetermined direction. However, there is also the development of self-organized systems in other fields, from sociology to economics, technology, medicine...
Although for the inanimate world, this theory can be conceptualized according to general principles (although largely insufficient: thermodynamics, entropy...), the question remains for all other systems: are there universal mechanisms governing the self-organization process?
If this question was to be answered in the affirmative, then knowledge of internal dynamics of a system would determine its equilibrium point. Yet we must see what this question reveals, regardless of the answers that can be given to it: each system has its own existence, a dynamism that gives it movement, a kind of momentum.
According to sociologist Niklas Luhmann, this dynamism is the result of communications within the structure. These interactions themselves call for others, and this creates the repetition and survival of a social system.
In management, the theory of self-organization provides strong principles. When a structure manages to emerge and exist on its own, the vitality of its components - its collaborators, its stakeholders - can enable it to develop, grow and transform itself into a coherent movement. This coherence, however, is subordinated to a fundamental assumption: the work of each party towards a common idea and to a higher purpose.