Sub-theme 25: Luck of the Draw – Design or Serendipity, Accident and Change?

Yiannis Gabriel
School of Management, University of Bath, UK
Stephen Andrew Linstead
University of York, UK
Sara Louise Muhr
University of Lund, Sweden

Call for Papers


"The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft agley"

Robert Burns


Intelligent design or random mutation? A purposeful, meaningful cosmos created with the methodical fastidiousness of a Swiss watch-maker versus an inchoate, emergent universe full of surprises, accidents and coincidences – this is the central problematic we will explore in this sub-theme.


The axis of mechanical design versus organic emergence underscores many debates in organizational studies. Conceptions of organizations emphasizing their mechanical, planned and controlled qualities approach them as human artefacts, products of design, calculation and creative imagination. Those stressing their organic, unpredictable and complex qualities approach them as outcomes of social, political and other processes that are not directly managed or controlled by anyone.

Conceptualizations of management and leadership also diverge widely, depending on the emphasis placed on design. Planning and controlling were determining features of classical views of the manager, that cast him/her in the role of taming the whims of fortune and leaving little to chance (e.g. Jaques, 1976). Thus, organizational theorists and practitioners sought to exorcise Fortuna, the bitch-goddess of unpredictability, to whom the Romans dedicated numerous temples (Machiavelli, 1513/1961; MacIntyre, 1981). More recent conceptualizations, however, emphasize the manager's ability to think laterally ('outside the box') and improvise when confronted by an unpredictable and changing world (Mintzberg, 1983; Weick, 1993). Excessive reliance on designs has been seen as curtailing the ability to respond creatively to uncommon situations.

Designer culture highlights yet another aspect of organizations – their aesthetic dimension. "Designer-made" suggests a superior type of good, one that commands a premium price in a market-place, where mass-produced products are replaced by carefully personalized and branded goods (Lipovetsky & Charles, 2005). Exponents of McDonaldization have argued that brands are now the targets of the same rationalizing forces that physical objects once were (Ritzer, 1998), while others have argued that brands acquire lives of their own by dint of a myriad accidental factors that put them beyond the control of their designers (Arvidsson, 2006).

We are interested in exploring the scope and limits of design when applied to any organizing activity, highlighting the vital importance of serendipity, luck, chance and misfortune. In particular, we would encourage submissions that address some of the following areas:

  • The cross-roads where organizing meets serendipity and design
  • Misfortune and organizational design
  • Branding: marketing accident or designed responses?
  • The importance of luck, accident and serendipity in the creative process
  • The aesthetics and rhetoric of design – the fantasy of designer omnipotence
  • The politics of design and in particular the attempts to "design out" expressions and actions of dissent
  • The poetics of chance and design – the usefulness of design and fortune as sensemaking devices
  • The 'management' of unpredictability and chance events and the spectre of unmanaged organizations
  • Accidental organizations and organizations designed to deal with accidents
  • Narratives of luck, misfortune and design in organizational life



Arvidsson, A. (2006): Meaning and Value in Media Culture. London: Routledge
Jaques, E. (1976): A General Theory of Bureaucracy. Oxford: Heinemann
Lipovetsky, G. & S. Charles (2005): Hypermodern Times. Cambridge: Polity
Machiavelli, N. (1513/1961): The Prince. Harmondsworth: Penguin
MacIntyre, A. (1981): After Virtue. London: Duckworth
Mintzberg, H. (1983): Structure in Fives: Designing Effective Organizations. London: Prentice Hall
Ritzer, G. (1998): The McDonaldization Thesis. London: Sage
Weick, K.E. (1993): "Organizational redesign as improvisation." In: G.P. Huber & W.H. Glick (eds.), Organizational Change and Redesign: Ideas and Insights for Improving Performance. Oxford: Oxford University Press


Yiannis Gabriel Yiannis Gabriel ( is Professor of Organizational Theory and Deputy Dean of the School of Management at Bath University. He is known for his work into organizational storytelling and narratives, leadership, management learning, psychoanalytic studies of work, and the culture and politics of contemporary consumption. He has used stories as a way of studying numerous social and organizational phenomena including leader-follower relations, group dynamics and fantasies, nostalgia, insults and apologies. More recently, Yiannis has carried out research on leadership and patient care in the hospital sector and on the experiences of sacked leaders and senior professionals. He is the author of ten books and numerous articles and has been editor of Management Learning and associate editor of Human Relations. His enduring fascination as a researcher lies in what he describes as the unmanageable qualities of life in and out of organizations. He has convened two earlier EGOS subthemes and three Critical Management Studies subthemes and has organized several special issues of academic journals, including Human Relations and Organization.
Stephen Andrew Linstead Stephen Linstead ( has been Professor of Critical Management at the University of York, UK since 2005, where he is also Director of the Centre for the Study of Working Lives. He holds a D.Litt from the University of Durham and is an Academician of the Academy of the Social Sciences. He has organized several EGOS and EURAM streams, including an SWG on The Philosophy of Organization (2001-2006). He is a former Chair of the Standing Conference on Organizational Symbolism, and former Editor of its journal Culture and Organization. His recent publications include Organization Theory and Postmodern Thought (Sage 2004) Thinking Organization (Routledge 2005) Organization and Identity (Routledge 2006) The Passion of Organizing (Liber 2006) The Magic of Organization (Elgar forthcoming) and a forthcoming Special Issue of Organization Studies on The Dark Side of Organization (with Garance Marechal and Ricky Griffin).
Sara Louise Muhr Sara Louise Muhr ( holds a Ph.D. from Copenhagen Business School and has since 2008 been lecturer at Lund University. Her research focuses on critical perspectives on managerial identity especially in relation to issues around coping with differences and expectations in modern flexible ways of working. Following this broader aim she has worked with various empirical settings such as management consultancy, prisons, pole dancers and network organizations where she has encountered topics as for example work-life subjectivity, gender issues, and leadership. She has published in among others Gender Work and Organization, Journal of Organizational Change Management, Management Decision, and Journal of Business Ethics, and has recently published an edited book Ethics and Organizational Practice – Questioning the Moral Foundations of Management with Edward Elgar.