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Paradox As the New Normal: essays on framing, managing and sustaining organizational tensions
Umeå University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Umeå School of Business and Economics (USBE), Business Administration.ORCID iD: 0000-0001-5564-360X
2017 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Metaphorically, the idiom “you cannot have your cake and eat it too” describes fundamental tensions at the heart of today’s organizations. Engaging tensions may seem implausible or even impossible. However, there exists evidence, given the increasingly complex environment, that both are vital to organizational success. To succeed, therefore, requires that organizations be able to manage, embrace, and transcend tensions. Consequently, the overall purpose of this thesis is to advance our understanding of tensions in general, and in creativity-based contexts in particular.

The purpose is achieved through five self-contained yet complementary papers. The conceptual parts, which resulted in three papers, include a literature review on tensions, from which inspirations and ideas from different disciplines have been drawn in order to add value to the literature specifically addressing tensions. In parallel with this conceptual work, I explore tensions (a paradox, to be specific) in a specific context (architecture), an effort that results in two papers. Consequently, in the conceptual work, I focus on what “could be,” while in the empirical work I focus on “what is.”

The findings highlight that first, theorizing about tensions calls for conceptual clarity. This was accomplished by identifying and then assembling core features that scholars use to conceptualize tensions. In doing so, the thesis contributes to the ways in which tensions are “represented” by reducing confusion and by making the assumptions behind tensions clear. Second, the thesis establishes that dealing with tensions productively requires a shift from thinking (and doing) based on a contingency approach towards contemporary approaches. Given the nature of the empirical context and the challenges therein, a true shift of this order necessitates framing tensions as paradoxes. In the same vein, the thesis indicates the need to rethink the central question; currently, that question is predominantly “how can we accommodate both A and B?” Given the nature of the empirical context, the question can be shifted to “why not C?” Doing so breaks away from focusing on the existing competing options and turns the focus towards something new. Moreover, dealing with tensions through this lens prevents neutralizing them and settling for a bland halfway point between one extreme and the other. Third, the thesis challenges the taken-for-granted assumption in the literature that dealing with tensions as paradoxes necessitates temporal compromise, separation, or resolution. In the thesis, I argue that dealing with paradoxes is possible without separating. This is so because simultaneously engaging paradoxes allows organizations to tap their energy and opens up new possibilities. In this case, the thesis contributes to the literature by empirically studying architectural firms. This empirical study shows that dealing with paradoxes requires an intricate interplay between what I call paradoxical mindsets and practices—which comprise organization members’ emotions, cognition, and behaviors—and organizational conditions that embed such mindsets and practices into the organization’s system. Fourth, the thesis makes a point that not all tensions require an action move. Accordingly, the thesis establishes that dealing with paradoxes may not necessarily entail action moves but rather a space to engage in dialogue so as to connect opposites, move outside of them, and situate them in a new relationship. In doing so, the presence of tension is appreciated and complementarity is sought. That is, the challenge is to be able to embrace paradoxes and not to resolve them.

The thesis concludes that although it is challenging to tap the power of paradoxes, it is not impossible. This thesis shows that this goal can be accomplished by accepting that paradoxes are normal, and then seeking to transcend them. In so doing, organizations can unleash the “slices of genius” in their members. 

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Umeå: Umeå universitet , 2017. , 80 p.
Series
Studier i företagsekonomi. Serie B, ISSN 0346-8291 ; 95
Keyword [en]
Competing demands, organizational tensions, paradox, paradox theory, architectural firm
National Category
Business Administration
Research subject
Business Studies
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-130527ISBN: 978-91-7601-663-3 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:umu-130527DiVA: diva2:1069141
Public defence
2017-02-21, Hörsal B, Umeå University, Umeå, 13:15 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from: 2017-01-31 Created: 2017-01-22 Last updated: 2017-01-30Bibliographically approved
List of papers
1. Towards a nuanced understanding of tensions in organizations: a reconceptualization and systematic comparison
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Towards a nuanced understanding of tensions in organizations: a reconceptualization and systematic comparison
2013 (English)Conference paper, (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Lately organizational scholars have shown growing interest in competing demands and associated tensions. This increased interest has led to a proliferation of sometimes confusing conceptualizations of such tensions. In an attempt to address this confusion, here I aim to enhance our conceptual clarity regarding tensions by identifying seven core features: the existence of a dyad, contradiction, interrelatedness, complementarity, compatibility, simultaneity, and the existence of push-pull forces. I use these features to construct a comparative classification of tensions; the resulting more-nuanced understanding can help scholars interpret results and compare contributions in the area. This new way of conceptualizing tension is a much-needed step toward furthering our understanding of tensions in organizations. 

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Lund: , 2013
Keyword
Competing demands, tensions, paradoxes, dualities, dialectics, tradeoffs, dilemmas, conceptual clarity
National Category
Business Administration
Research subject
Business Studies
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-130718 (URN)
Conference
Swedish Academy of Management
Available from: 2017-01-29 Created: 2017-01-29 Last updated: 2017-02-07
2. In search of a creative space: A conceptual framework of synthesizing paradoxical tensions
Open this publication in new window or tab >>In search of a creative space: A conceptual framework of synthesizing paradoxical tensions
2016 (English)In: Scandinavian Journal of Management, ISSN 0956-5221, E-ISSN 1873-3387, Vol. 32, no 1, 33-44 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

We examine paradoxes in organizations and the organizations’ ability to deal with the resulting paradoxical tensions. Paradoxes constitute contradictory yet interrelated organizational demands that exist simultaneously, with the resulting tensions persisting over time. Irrespective of the prevailing evidence that engaging paradoxes leads to peak performance in the short-term, which reinforces long-term success, the question of how this might be done remains perplexing. Thus, based on pragmatic philosophy, this paper aims to increase our understanding of what constitutes a paradox and suggests a conceptual framework from which organizations and their members can frame and cope with tensions that result from paradoxes. Specifically, we conceptually map a way to achieve a synthesis of paradoxical tensions that is informed by design thinking. This synthesis is said to occur when competing demands are simultaneously fulfilled to their full potential. In this paper, design thinking – as a management concept – is used to refer to the interplay between perspective, structure, process, and mindset. It provides an alternative framing of how organizations approach paradoxes and deal with the resulting tensions.

Keyword
Design thinking, Organizational design, Paradoxical tensions, Symmetric organizational form, Synthesizing
National Category
Business Administration
Research subject
Business Studies
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-113788 (URN)10.1016/j.scaman.2015.12.002 (DOI)000371837400004 ()
Funder
Riksbankens Jubileumsfond
Available from: 2015-12-30 Created: 2015-12-30 Last updated: 2017-01-27Bibliographically approved
3. On the emergence and management of paradoxical tensions: The case of architectural firms
Open this publication in new window or tab >>On the emergence and management of paradoxical tensions: The case of architectural firms
(English)In: European Management JournalArticle, review/survey (Refereed) Submitted
Keyword
Architectural firms; organizing platform; tensions; paradoxes; creativity-based context, paradoxical mindset, paradoxical practice
National Category
Social Sciences
Research subject
Business Studies
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-130713 (URN)
Note

Paradoxical tensions are pervasive and unavoidable in the everyday practice of creativity-based contexts, such as architectural firms. Whilst the existing literature has extensively explored both coping strategies and multiple ways of approaching paradoxical tensions, we still have a limited understanding of how individuals engage with paradoxical tensions and how organizations support their members’ efforts to sustain such tensions. Accordingly, my purpose here is to explore paradoxical tensions in the context of architectural firms and explain how firms and their members make sense of these tensions. I use a multiple case study to investigate empirically the salient paradoxical tensions central to architectural firms and to develop an understanding of what makes them salient. I explain how triggers evoke latent tensions and make them salient and also outline salient paradoxical tensions prevalent within this context. In exploring how architectural firms and their members make sense of these tensions, I outline and explain the importance of a paradoxical mindset, a paradoxical practice, and supporting organizational arrangements. I conclude by discussing the interplay among mindsets, practices, and arrangements as an organizing platform—a conceptual framework that future studies could explore further.

Available from: 2017-01-29 Created: 2017-01-29 Last updated: 2017-01-29
4. The role of space for a paradoxical way of thinking and doing: Case studies on idea work in architectural firms
Open this publication in new window or tab >>The role of space for a paradoxical way of thinking and doing: Case studies on idea work in architectural firms
(English)In: Creativity and Innovation ManagementArticle, review/survey (Refereed) Submitted
Abstract [en]

It is well established that engaging paradoxes and the role of space, in different ways, are important aspects of idea work. However, even if the importance has been recognized, studies that focus on the intersection of how space might facilitate a paradoxical way of thinking and doing are scarce. Accordingly, this article positions itself in this intersection and focuses on the role of space in idea work characterized by paradoxes. More specifically, the article aims at identifying and exploring the spatial conditions that enable engaging paradoxes and explaining how they facilitate a paradoxical way of thinking and doing. Based on case studies of three Scandinavian architectural firms, and through theory-informed inductive theorizing, four spatial conditions are identified, which are conceptualized as; organized chaos, boundary(less)ness, premeditated spontaneity, and (re)framing. From the results, and through the discussion, the notion of “generative space” is introduced to explain the overall importance of spatiality, as well as how the conditions separately and jointly facilitate a paradoxical way of thinking and doing in idea work. 

Keyword
Architectural firms, generative space, paradox theory, organizational space, paradoxical thinking, creativity-based context
National Category
Business Administration
Research subject
Business Studies
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-130714 (URN)
Available from: 2017-01-29 Created: 2017-01-29 Last updated: 2017-01-29
5. Embracing Paradoxes: A Dialogical Perspective
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Embracing Paradoxes: A Dialogical Perspective
2013 (English)Conference paper, (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Paradoxes are, by definition, persistent and resistant to closure. Responding to a paradox in practice, however, entails action moves that resolve the tension, at least temporarily. Any attempt at resolution—even temporary—however, pushes the tension away. Hence, the question is: how can organizations and their members resist closure and embrace paradoxes? This paper consequently seeks to provide a conceptual explanation of how paradoxes can be embraced in a way that resists closure and keeps the tension alive. Using Bakhtin’s concept of the dialogical perspective as a point of departure, I propose acceptance of multiplicity, continuous generation of difference, collaborative expansion, and use of aesthetic moments as performative practices that emerge in and out of the dialogue. The paper argues that a move from “both/and” thinking towards “more-than” thinking requires members to engage in a dialogue; this, in turn, enable options to emerge, in the form of responses, that were not previously evident. By engaging in dialogue, the paper concludes that organization members can avoid premature closure of options. Embracing the inevitable paradoxes also means that they are never resolved but always in play; this approach will hopefully engender multiple voices to enter into organizational decisions. 

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Lund: , 2013
National Category
Business Administration
Research subject
Business Studies
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-130717 (URN)
Conference
Swedish Academy of Management
Available from: 2017-01-29 Created: 2017-01-29 Last updated: 2017-01-29

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