Sub-theme 37: Strategic Learning in Practice: Understanding the Complexity of Organizational Learning

Barbara Müller-Christensen
Johannes Kepler University Linz, Austria
Elena P. Antonacopoulou
University of Liverpool Management School, UK
Wolfgang H. Güttel
Johannes Kepler University Linz, Austria

Call for Papers

In complex and turbulent environments a firm's ability to learn and to change is central to its survival. The question as to how organizations learn and unlearn and how they manage the tensions between stability and change is addressed by research on strategic and change management, organizational learning, absorptive capacity, ambidexterity and innovation (e.g., Easterby et al., 2008; Eisenhardt & Martin, 2000; Farjoun, 2010; March, 1991; O'Reilly & Tushman, 2011). A wide array of theoretical perspectives as well as empirical evidence characterizes the field of organizational learning and strategic change. However, research lacks on in-depth studies of the dynamic process of learning and change (cf. Antonacopoulou & Chiva, 2007). Thus, it is necessary to bridge literature streams that so far mainly have been discussed separately and to combine this knowledge in order to provide an integrated interactional perspective to understand the complexity of learning and change practices with strategic imperatives. This topic is particularly relevant in times when continuous learning and change are essential requirements to meet the challenges of an economic situation characterized by unpredictability, risk, and uncertainty.

The aim of the sub-theme is bridging strategic considerations with learning and change practices to discuss inertia on individual, group, and organizational levels that undermine adaptation to newly discovered demands. We are looking for empirical and theoretical papers that analyze learning and change processes in order to understand strategic decision-making patterns, learning and change architectures and their impact on practices to deal with turbulent environments. Further, we also intend to discuss how firms transform their learning and change strategy and architecture into practice in order to react to the complexity of a disruptively evolving environment. We also welcome papers that investigate learning and change from a contrary perspective to understand how firms suppress learning and reconfiguration even in turbulent environments to achieve high-reliability or to replicate business models exactly.


Thus, we welcome contributions that address questions such as the following:

  • How can organizations manage tensions of stability and change especially in turbulent environments?
  • How do firms deal with complex and dynamically evolving environments to survive?
  • How can firms overcome inertia and transform their learning and change strategy into practice?
  • How do strategic decision-making patterns, rules, cultural norms and values influence organizational learning and change?
  • How can firms govern learning and change by creating appropriate architectures and supportive HR practices? 



Antonacopoulou, Elena & Ricardo Chiva (2007): 'The social complexity of organization learning: the dynamics of learning and organizing.' Management Learning, 38, 277–295.
Easterby-Smith, Mark, Manuel Graça, Elena Antonacopoulou & Jason Ferdinand (2008): 'Absorptive capacity: a process perspective.' Management Learning, 39, 483–501.
Eisenhardt, Kathleen M. & Jeffrey A. Martin (2000): 'Dynamic capabilities: what are they?' Strategic Management Journal, 21, 1105–1121.
Farjoun, Moshe (2010): 'Beyond dualism: stability and change as a dualism.' Academy of Management Review, 35, 202–225.
March, James G. (1991): 'Exploration and exploitation in organizational learning.' Organization Science, 2, 71–87.
O'Reilly, Charles A. & Michael L. Tushman (2011): 'Organizational ambidexterity in action: how managers explore and exploit.' California Management Review, 53, 1–18.


Barbara Müller-Christensen is Assistant Professor of HR and Change Management at the Johannes Kepler University Linz, Austria. Her main research interests are on understanding the complexity of organizational learning and strategic change. Her research focuses on analyzing the interplay of organizational processes, as she is especially interested in understanding how organizational patterns emerge from interactions and how they influence organizational knowledge, learning and change.
Elena P. Antonacopoulou is Professor of Organizational Behaviour at University of Liverpool Management School and currently one of 17 AIM Fellows as part of the Advanced Institute for Management Research. Her principal research interests include change and learning processes in organizations. Within that she has concentrated on individuals’ receptivity to change and the role of learning and knowing practices, in conjunction with HR Development interventions in organizations. She is joint Editor-in-Chief of the international journal 'Management Learning' and serves on the Editorial Board of the 'Academy of Management Learning and Education Journal'. She has recently been elected on the Council of the British Academy of Management.
Wolfgang H. Güttel is Professor of Human Resource and Change Management at the Johannes Kepler University Linz, Austria, and Dean and Chief Executive at the LIMAK Austrian Business School. Previously, he was Professor at the Universities of Kassel (Germany) and Hamburg (Germany) and Research Fellow at the Universities of Liverpool (UK) and Padua (Italy). He serves as board member at the European Academy of Management (Strategic Interest Group: Knowledge and Learning) and at the Strategic Management Society (Interest Group: Strategy Practice). His main research interest concerns the ability of firms to deal with complex and dynamically evolving environments by facilitating learning and change.