A common theme across many systems—social systems (e.g. organisations), biological systems and even sub-atomic systems—is that perturbations can negatively influence performance. Negative perturbations—or disruptions—can emerge from both endogenous and exogenous sources, depending upon the permeability of a system’s boundaries.
Accordingly, there is a unique dilemma whereby open systems (with permeable boundaries) often depend upon their external environments to survive but are also subject to disruptions originating from these environments. This dilemma has given rise to research in disruption management; which is applied interdisciplinary across areas such as supply chain management, organisational behaviour and disaster management. Rather than prescribe guidance towards risk mitigation and contingency through ‘ideal’ strategies, the thesis aims to explore how individuals—as agents within a system—act when facing disruptions, and what is the nature of the relationship between individuals, the systems they operate in and post-disruption system behaviour.
The thesis explores two main theoretical realms to understand this phenomenon; systems theories and decision-making theories. Systems theories have their origins in General Systems Theory (GST) (Von Bertalanffy 1938) as a means of investigating phenomena holistically—where—to paraphrase Aristotle—the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. System theories argue that systems possess a mix of characteristics—such as the ability to engage with exogenous environments, goal-seeking behaviour and non-linearity—that influence how systems behave under a variety of circumstances. Social systems—those that are governed by the actions of human actors—are the focus of this thesis