Northwestern Kellogg Creates New ‘Complexity’ Institute With $25M Gift

Kellogg School of Management is bringing physicists, economists, and sociologists together to apply the emerging field of "complexity science" to business.
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Published on September 15, 2023
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  • A new institute will look to apply the growing field of "complexity science" to business and management at the Northwestern Kellogg School of Management.
  • Complexity science studies complex systems, or the way different components interact with each other as a whole.
  • Researchers will use data and artificial intelligence to "improve understanding of how the success of organizations, regions and nations build from their deep and rich interconnections."
  • The new institute was made possible with a $25 million gift from the Ryan Family Foundation.

Physics, economics, and sociology experts are coming together as part of a first-of-its-kind research institute at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management.

The Ryan Institute on Complexity, funded at Kellogg with a $25 million gift from the Ryan Family Foundation, will use the growing field of complexity science to tackle big-picture problems for businesses, markets, and society as a whole, school officials announced in a Sept. 6 press release.

Complexity science studies complex systems, or the way different components interact with each other as a whole. That can mean everything from an organism to a city or country. Kellogg's new institute will focus on using data and artificial intelligence to understand "increasingly complex societal, business, and market challenges."

The release notes that the Nobel Prize in physics was awarded in the field of complexity science for the first time in 2021. The new research institute's goal is to "improve understanding of how the success of organizations, regions and nations build from their deep and rich interconnections," according to the release.

Dashun Wang, a physicist and professor of management and organizations who is among the Kellogg faculty members leading the new institution, said combining complexity science with management could have a major impact on the world.

"If we can integrate complexity science and this fundamental thinking from physics and the natural sciences and apply it to business and markets, developing thought leadership and training future leaders in the school — that could be a very meaningful contribution to society," Wang said.

Bringing in physicists and sociologists might seem like an unusual move for a business school, but the new research institute highlights a growing trend toward embracing science and big data at the nation's top business schools.

And Kellogg is no stranger to interdisciplinary collaboration: The school's MBAi program in collaboration with the McCormick School of Engineering focuses on artificial intelligence — a topic that is in high demand for both businesses and students alike.

"Kellogg has always taken an interdisciplinary approach to open new areas," Kellogg Dean Francesca Cornelli said in the release.

"Our vision is bold — that complexity science shall permeate every aspect of business, with the most effective leaders succeeding through understanding and managing a system's connectivity. Thanks to the generosity of the Ryan Family, Kellogg will drive a new field and best prepare the leaders of the future."

Businesses are grappling with an ever-increasing trove of data, and business schools have increasingly turned toward science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) and information technology to better prepare students for management jobs that demand technological fluency from students.

Some schools, including Tulane University, have opted to integrate data throughout their business curriculum. Others have opted to offer master of business administration (MBA) concentrations in emerging fields like data analytics in order to bolster students' skillsets.