Organizational discontinuity: Evolutionary, revolutionary and re-evolutionary change Paper presented at the 25th Standing Conference on Organizational Symbolism “Signs of the future: Management, messianism, catastrophe” 1-4 July 2007, Ljubljana, Slovenia by Dr. Jürgen Deeg University of Hagen, Germany Faculty of Economics and Business Administration Chair of Business Administration, Leadership and Organization Profilstr. 8, 58084 Hagen e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Abstract: Facing an age of tremendous change and transformation, the ability to cope with such radically, i.e. discontinuous changing contexts is now a key variable for organizational success, performance and growth. Consequently organizational discontinuity is not only a major challenge in present organizational practices, but also a “true test” for organization science. While it is highly questionable whether organization science has read the signs of the future in this respect, the paper pursues a critical study of the organizational change discourse and provides an integrated view of organizational discontinuity as the epitome of future change processes. As the changing nature of change towards more discontinuity requires new ideas and visions for the analysis and explanation of this different kind of organizational change, the paper tries to integrate the opposite paradigms of determinism and voluntarism in organizational change discussion with a paralogic method. By combining continuous and discontinuous aspects of change and focussing on change and stability, an integrated perspective of organizational discontinuity is outlined. Viewed in such a perspective, organizational discontinuity is an intermittent interplay of order and disorder, which can be explained by evolutionary and revolutionary theories of change linked together in a model of “constructive destruction”. Furthermore a “re-evolutionary” perspective is presented, conceptualizing the delicate interaction between evolutionary (structural) and revolutionary (political) processes. Finally some implications for theory and research on organizational change are also provided. 1 Introduction
To assert that we live in an age of unprecedented change and transformation, in which nearly every aspect of modern life is affected by the rapidity and irreversibility of such changes, has almost become a truism (Chia 1999, p. 209). More and more organizations are under an increasing pressure to respond to even more and more dramatic changes in order to remain viable, profitable or attractive to stakeholders (Kanter/Stein/Jick 1992, D’Aveni 1995, Nadler 1998). Thus the ability to cope with such radically, i.e. discontinuos changing contexts is now 1
a key variable for success, performance and growth (Greenwood/Hinings 1996, Brown/Eisenhardt 1998, Nadler/Shaw 1995). Therefore organizational discontinuity is the major challenge in present organizational practice (Prahalad 1998, p. 14) and a true test for future organization science as well (Mohrman 2001, p. 63). But whether organizational science has read the signs of the future in this respect is highly questionable. Not only the scientific discussion of change is extremely fragmented and no commonly accepted (unitary) theory of change in sight to keep up with such a multifaceted and contradictory phenomenon, discontinuous change has rarely been addressed at all. The paper therefore aims at contributing to a radical critique of the organizational change discourse and providing avenues of an integrative view of discontinuous organizational change as a prominent form of future change processes. Because so far the discussion on organizational change is in many respects substantially inappropriate, insufficient and onesided and cannot address the phenomenon of discontinuity adequately. Firstly change is in a far too optimistic view still seen as a stable, predictable, and manageable process (Sturdy/Grey 2004, p. 4). Yet change implies far more surprise,...
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