Sub-theme 52: Paradoxes and Unreason: Provoking Greater Examination into Organizational Life

Costas Andriopoulos
City University London, UK
Ella Miron-Spektor
Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, Israel
Wendy K. Smith
University of Delaware, USA

Call for Papers

Change continues to accelerate, increasingly surfacing paradoxical tensions in organizations. Where we once sought order, clarity, and consistency in organizations, we now find disorder, dynamism, and inconsistencies. These contradictions abound in organizational goals, structures, processes, cultures and identities (Smith & Lewis, 2011). For example, long-term sustainability goals depend on both short-term profits and increased costly investments in long-term relationships (Gittel, 2004). Organizational structures must provide clarity and stability, yet enable flexibility and change (Klein et al, 2006). Contradictions raise paradoxical tensions (e.g. stability vs. change; control vs. freedom, centralization vs. decentralization), competing yet interrelated demands that exist simultaneously and persist over time (e.g. Andriopoulos & Lewis, 2009; Cameron & Quinn, 2006; Miron-Spektor et al., 2011; Smith & Lewis, 2011).

Paradoxical tensions are complex. As they arise, they provoke questions and confusion, encouraging both scholars and practitioners to pause and reflect. Paradox scholars argue that these tensions are inherent in organizations, and attending to them simultaneously fuels long-run organizational success and sustainability (e.g. Miron-Spektor et al., 2011; Smith & Lewis, 2011). Moving beyond oversimplified either/or trade-offs, a paradox perspective seeks to transform management mindsets and practices by identifying both/and opportunities (Lewis, 2000). Yet they raise challenging questions about how organizations can effectively do so. These paradoxical tensions demand us to reflect on our rationality and reason. They force us to reexamine organizational life, in an attempt to make sense of this greater complexity (e.g. Fiol et al., 2009; Jarzabkowski & Sillince, 2007; Jay, 2013).

In this sub-theme, we seek to share and motivate research that extends our understanding of how tensions and paradoxes impact our thinking and reflections on organizational life. Specifically, we invite papers that explore some of the following, illustrative questions:

  • How are tensions and paradoxes perceived, reflected upon and enacted by organizational actors? How does an emphasis on "either/or tradeoffs" turns into "both/and" practice, in what conditions, and with what outcomes?
  • How do tensions and paradoxes fuel reflections, examinations, and sense making?
  • What are the outcomes associated with different strategies for coping with/managing paradoxical tensions?
  • How can researchers explore tensions and paradoxes? How might paradox-oriented methods (assuming that tensions are dynamic – cyclical and constantly shifting in their relationship to one another) differ from dominant conventions aimed at identifying tradeoffs through central tendencies?




  • Andriopoulos, C., & Lewis, M.W. (2009): "Exploitation-exploration tensions and organizational ambidexterity: Managing paradoxes of innovation." Organization Science, 20 (4), 696–717.
  • Cameron, K., & Quinn, R. (2006): Diagnosing and Changing Culture: Based on the Competing Values Framework. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • Fiol, M., Pratt, M., & O'Connor, E. (2009): "Managing intractable identity conflicts." Academy of Management Review, 34 (1), 32–55.
  • Gittell, J.H. (2004): "Paradox of coordination and control." California Management Review, 42 (3), 101–117.
  • Jarzabkowski, P., & Sillince, J. (2007): "A rhetoric-in-context approach to building commitment to multiple strategic goals." Organization Studies, 28 (11),1639–1665.
  • Jay, J. (2013): "Navigating paradox as a mechanism of change and innovation in hybrid organizations." Academy of Management Journal, 56 (1), 137–159.
  • Klein, K.J., Ziegert, J.C., Knight, A., & Xiao, Y. (2006): "Dynamic delegation: Shared, hierarchical and deindividualized leadership in extreme action teams." Administrative Science Quarterly, 51 (4), 590–621.
  • Lewis, M.W. (2000): "Exploring paradox: Toward a more comprehensive guide." Academy of Management Review, 25 (4), 760–776.
  • Miron-Spektor, E., Erez, M., & Naveh, E. (2011): "The effects of conformists and attention-to-detail members on team innovation: Reconciling the innvation paradox." Academy of Management Journal, 54( 4), 740–760.
  • Smith, W.K., & Lewis, M.W. (2011): "Toward a theory of paradox: a dynamic equilibrium model of organizing." Academy of Management Review, 36 (2), 381–403.


Costas Andriopoulos is Professor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Cass Business School, UK. His research focuses on the management of tensions and paradoxes to sustain innovation in high velocity industries. Constantine was co-convenor of the paradox sub-theme for the EGOS Colloquium 2012 in Helsinki.
Ella Miron-Spektor is Assistant Professor of Organizational Psychology at the Faculty of Industrial Engineering and Management, Technion, Israel. Her research interests include tensions and paradoxes that impede and enable creativity and innovation, organizational and team learning, and emotions at the workplace.
Wendy K. Smith is Associate Professor of Management in the Department of Business Administration, Lerner College of Business and Economics at the University of Delaware, USA. Her research focuses on managing strategic paradoxes, exploring and exploiting and ambidexterity. Wendy has attended the EGOS Colloquium 2008 in Amsterdam, where she was awarded the EGOS Best Paper Award, and was lead convenor of the paradox sub-theme for the EGOS Colloquia 2010 in Lisbon and 2012 in Helsinki.