Sub-theme 26: Embracing and Nurturing Imperfections for Resilient Individuals, Organizations, and Societies

Maria Laura Frigotto
University of Trento, Italy
Mitchell Young
Charles University, Czech Republic
Rómulo Pinheiro
University of Agder, Norway

Call for Papers

Following the EGOS Colloquium 2022 call’s claim that “imperfection need not implicate deficiency, weakness, or failure – but, instead, may implicate opportunity, unrealized potential, and even the exceptional”, this sub-theme investigates the links between perceived ‘imperfections’ and resilience in the context of societies, organizations, teams, individuals and processes. Resilience, both as property and outcome, is the ability to respond to changing circumstances whilst retaining (at least some) elements of function and identity, so that a continuity of essence is acknowledgeable (Pinheiro et al., forthcoming). The ongoing Covid-19 global health pandemic has, once more, underscored the importance of resilience especially in the face of novelty and surprise, and the quest for retuning to a ‘new normal’. Yet, being resilient does not necessary imply the absence of change in terms of a return or ‘bounce back’ to an old state or normality. Instead, it refers to the ability to absorb, adapt, transform and/or ‘bouncing forward’ within a specific threshold or boundary limit beyond which one can recognize the same identity, competences or value proposition.
Studies have suggested that resilience is associated with structural and cultural attributes as well as dynamisms that were considered at some points in time as imperfect or deficient. In fact, resilience depends on accepting imperfection; building resilience into systems and organizations would be unnecessary if we could perfectly model and understand ourselves as individuals, organizations, and societies. It is imperfect knowledge and bounded rationality that enables resilient response and continuity. For example, public universities have often been described as ‘incomplete organizations’ due to their loosely coupled structures, dispersion of authority and cultural heterogeneity (Musselin, 2007). In the eyes of policy makers, university administrators and other rationalizers focusing on efficiency such features impeded universities from reaching their full potential. Yet, these same features have, historically, made universities rather resilient in the face of shifting external - social, political and economic – circumstances (Pinheiro & Young, 2017). Similarly in business organizations, where since its early foundations (1865) as a paper mill, Nokia was historically able to adjust to external circumstances, including the collapse of the Soviet Union, moving from paper to rubber to tv to mobile and network businesses, whilst retaining function and a sense of unique identity.
Organizational mechanisms such as slack, diversity, experimentation, playfulness, and drilling, build the exploration ability of organizations, account for the pursuit of new long-term innovation paths, as well as help buffering and responding to novel and unexpected adversities. Nevertheless, the long-term nature of these mechanisms often results in their being judged “inefficient” when compared to more short-term exploitative decisions building on a short-sighted “perfection” (March, 1991). Supporting evidence has been produced across diverse organizational fields like culture (Frigotto & Frigotto, forthcoming), health care (Pinheiro et al., 2016), and the military (Lehner et al., forthcoming), showing that explorative mechanisms have been found to play a critically important role in resilience. At the individual level, emphatic support and quality of contact have been shown to play a prominent role in maintaining motivation and mindfulness amongst coworkers (Fasbender et al., 2020). Finally, studies lend evidence to the criticality of social networks in fostering the resilience of social-ecological systems (Hahn et al., 2008).
As world societies devise new, flexible structures to cope with, and ultimately overcome, the challenges posed by external shocks such as Covid1-9, the ability to improvise in the face of ambiguity and complexity, e.g. in the form of temporary organizing, hybridity, agility, becomes paramount whilst nurturing resilient practices, norms and behaviors. Resilience is studied at different levels: individuals, teams, organizations, and systems; raising a number of intriguing conceptual and empirical queries in the context of this panel, namely: what are the “imperfections” that make these levels resilient? Are these imperfections nurtured or resisted, and under what circumstances and by whom? Is there a link to temporality (i.e. resilience before, during and after adversities occur)? Hence, in this sub-theme, we are interested in papers that provide novel empirical and theoretical accounts, including inter-disciplinary ones, on the complex, non-linear and multifaceted linkages between imperfect organizational structures and attributes and resilient behaviors and outcomes. This includes accounts that transcend organizational and/or organizational field boundaries, e.g. structures and attributes at different levels (macro-meso-micro) that co-evolve and/or are deeply nested into one another. Pertinent queries include but are not restricted to:

  • What are the effects (if any) of one or more of the following concepts of ‘imperfection’ on resilient structures and behaviors: loose coupling, slack, redundancies, experimentation, playfulness, temporary organizing?

  • What is the relationship between different degrees of organizational hierarchy, formalization and/or rationalization and the ability to adapt to emerging circumstances?

  • To what extent does managerialism rely on ideas of perfection which undermine resilience and vice versa? How can managers best promote resilience?

  • Are there limits to imperfections within and across organizational fields, and if so, what are the conditional factors?

  • Does the concept of resilience assist or detract from the likeliness of organizations to adopt and diffuse imperfect features and attributes?

  • Who are the primary carriers of imperfect yet resilient features within organizations and/or across organizational fields?

  • Can imperfection(s) for resilience be designed, and how so?

In addressing these (and other queries) we appeal to social scientists working across disciplinary boundaries and resorting to innovative methodologies that move beyond the traditional linear approaches of science, in an attempt to provide a more holistic or systemic understanding of the co-evolution of, and interplay between, systems or fields, organizations and organizational participants.


  • Fasbender, U., Burmeister, A., & Wang, M. (2020): “Motivated to be socially mindful: Explaining age differences in the effect of employees’ contact quality with coworkers on their coworker support.” Personnel Psychology, 73 (3), 407–430.
  • Frigotto, M.L. & Frigotto, F. (forthcoming): “Resilience and Change in Opera Theatres: Traveling the Edge of Tradition and Contemporaneity.” In: R. Pinheiro, M.L. Frigotto, & M. Young (eds.): Towards Resilient Organizations and Societies: A Cross-Sectoral and Multi-Disciplinary Perspective. London: Palgrave.
  • Lehner, J., Born, E., Kelemen, P., & Born, R. (forthcoming): “Installing an action space for resilience in surprising situations.” R. Pinheiro, M.L. Frigotto, & M. Young (eds.): Towards Resilient Organizations and Societies: A Cross-Sectoral and Multi-Disciplinary Perspective. London: Palgrave.
    March, J.G. (1991): “Exploration and exploitation in organizational learning.” Organization Science, 2 (1), 71–87.
  • Musselin, C. (2007): “Are universities specific organisations?” In: G. Krücken, A. Kosmützky, & M. Torka (eds.): Towards a Multiversity? Universities between Global Trends and National Traditions. Bielefeld: Transaction Publishers, 63–84.
  • Pinheiro, R., & Young, M. (2017): “The university as an adaptive resilient organization: A complex systems perspective.” In: J. Huisman & M. Tight (eds.): Theory and Method in Higher Education Research. Bingley: Emerald, 119–136.
  • Pinheiro, R., Geschwind, L., Ramirez, F., & Vrangbæk, K. (2016): Towards a Comparative Institutionalism: Forms, Dynamics and Logics Across the Organizational Fields of Health Care and Higher Education. Bingley: Emerald.
  • Pinheiro, R., Frigotto, M.L., & Young, M. (eds.). (forthcoming): Towards Resilient Organizations and Societies: A Cross-Sectoral and Multi-Disciplinary Perspective. London: Palgrave.
  • Hahn, T., Schultz, L., Folke, C., & Olsson, P. (2008): “Social networks as sources of resilience in social-ecological systems.” In: J. Norberg & G. Cumming (eds.): Complexity Theory for a Sustainable Future. New York: Columbia University Press, 119–148.
Maria Laura Frigotto is Associate Professor in Organization Theory and Management at the University of Trento, Italy, where she is a member of the Department of Economics and Management, of the Institute for Safety and Security (ISSTN) of the School of Innovation and of the PhD Program in Economics and Management. Her research focuses on novelty, especially in its unexpected and emergent form, in relation to resilience and innovation.
Mitchell Young s Assistant Professor of European Studies at Charles University, Czech Republic. His research interests are in public management and the institutional context of research with a particular focus on the effects that policy tools for evaluating and funding research have on the micro-level behavior of researchers and institutions; science as a complex system; and the process European integration in higher education and research.
Rómulo Pinheiro is Professor of Public Policy and Administration at the University of Agder, Norway, where he co-heads the Governance & Leadership in the Public Sector (GOLEP) Research Group. His research interests are placed at the interception of public policy and administration, organizational theory, higher education and regional science and innovation. Rómulo is particularly keen to undertake comparative studies across different parts of the public sector, including within higher education governance and management.