Sub-theme 34: Discovering Creativity in Necessity: Organizational Ingenuity under Institutional Constraints

Joseph Lampel
Cass Business School, City University London, UK
Benson Honig
DeGroote School of Business, McMaster University, Canada
Issy Drori
School of Business, College of Management, Israel

Call for Papers


The construction of creativity in organizations continues to puzzle scholars. Creativity is often associated with organizational spaces where rules and boundaries are weak if non-existent, and by the same token is considered to decline when these constraining forces are strong and pervasive. This dichotomy – organizational freedom versus necessity – results in opposing images of creativity and its absence: On the one hand, we have romantic images of entrepreneurs asserting their creativity by breaking rules and transcending boundaries, and on the other hand, we are presented with institutionalized managers constrained by rules and prevented by boundaries from exercising their creativity.

Reality belies this dichotomy. In practice, the interplay of freedom and necessity in organizations is more nuanced. Most organizational actors have to operate within boundaries and through prevailing rules to effect creative solutions to new or existing problems. To meet the challenge of the situation, these actors must develop a set of skills, social tactics, and mental orientation that express 'organizational ingenuity', defined as the ability to create innovative solutions within structural constraints using limited resources and imaginative problem solving.

Organizational ingenuity is practised at different organizational, sectoral, national, and international levels. It is practised within the organization at the interface between individual, team, project, and business units, but is also employed externally by the organization as it engages with its regulatory and societal interactions. In these contexts, organizational ingenuity mobilizes cooperation and co-opts dissent to 'game and tilt' organizational and societal power in the pursuit of limited or global goals. Its practices therefore reflect the governance system in which it is embedded, but this embeddedness is used to advantage by co-opting, coordinating, and whenever possible drawing on organizational slack to effect change.

Accordingly, the following overarching questions will inform discussion in this sub-theme:

  • Under what conditions does organizational ingenuity emerge?
  • How do social actors innovate within the constraints of their institutional processes?
  • How do they use institutional processes to alter the institutions in which they operate?


This sub-theme is organized in conjunction with an Organization Studies special issue on the same topic. It is dedicated to bringing together scholars interested in the more contextual and practice-oriented aspects of organizational ingenuity and creativity. We welcome submissions from a variety of disciplines and point of views. In particular, we are interested in submissions that focus on the following issues:

  • papers that examine the nature and dynamics of organizational ingenuity;
  • papers that examine organizational ingenuity in different kinds of organizations such as bureaucracies, post bureaucracies, collegial organizations, and collectivist organizations;
  • papers that examine organizational ingenuity by top, middle, and first-line management;
  • papers that examine organizational ingenuity in projects and temporary organizations;
  • papers that examine organizational ingenuity in different countries and cultures;
  • papers that examine the interaction between individual and organizational ingenuity;
  • papers that explore the organizational processes that facilitate ingenuity and creativity, with particular attention on how these processes shape organizations' values and managerial norms;
  • papers that examine organizational factors that favor or suppress the emergence and effectiveness of organizational ingenuity;
  • papers that examine the interaction of organizational ingenuity with business innovation;
  • papers that examine the interaction of organizational ingenuity with entrepreneurial action;
  • papers that examine how creative organizational entrepreneurs deal with resource constraints;
  • papers that explore how organizational entrepreneurs enact creative processes, act as enablers, and react to the dynamics along different fields, industries or organizations (e.g. new–old, small–big);
  • papers that examine the interaction of organizational ingenuity with power and politics in organizations;
  • papers that examine organizational ingenuity by groups and teams;
  • papers that examine the empirical and methodological problems of studying creative organizational ingenuity.


Joseph Lampel JOSEPH LAMPEL (PhD McGill ) is Professor of Strategy at Cass Business School, City University London. Joseph Lampel has authored and edited five books, among them “Strategy Safari” with Henry Mintzberg and Bruce Ahlstrand, and “The Business of Culture,” with Jamal Shamsie and Theresa Lant. He has edited five journal special issues, including one on “Field Configuring Events” in Journal of Management Studies with Alan Meyer, and another on “Learning from Rare Events” with Jamal Shamsie and Zur Shapira. He is currently editing a special issue on the same topic as this EGOS proposal with Benson Honig and Israel Drori.
Benson Honig BENSON HONIG (PhD Stanford) is the Teresa Cascioli Chair, DeGroote School of Business. He has published over 30 articles, and is ET&P editor and serves on five editorial boards, including JBV and JMS. He is the 2009 co- winner of the Grief award for highest five-year impact article in entrepreneurship.
Issy Drori ISRAEL DRORI (PhD UCLA) is a professor of management at the College of management, Israel. He has published four books, and is working on two forthcoming books: Vision and Change in R&D Organization (Berghahn Books, 2011), and Genealogical Evolution of the Israeli Hi-Tech, (Stanford University Press, 2011).