34th EGOS Colloquium, Tallinn 2018

Call for Sub-theme Proposals


Surprise in and around Organizations:

Journeys to the Unexpected

July 5–8, 2018

Tallinn, Estonia



The capacity to surprise, the experience of being surprised, and the ability to cope adequately with, and respond to, surprises are important aspects of organizational life, especially as organizations face the unexpected in the environments and societies they are embedded in or are exposed to. Surprise can, of course, mean many different things, ranging from new discoveries and openings, to shocks and ruptures. It can be good or bad, triggering amazement and astonishment, as well as confusion and consternation. Overall, when something surprising happens in and around organizations, it opens up a journey to the unexpected, bringing about challenges but also opportunities for learning. Unpleasant surprises, however, can also lead to learning blocks and emotional traumas, restraining creativity and adventure, and making us opt for the tried and tested.

Just as individuals and organizations create and/or react to surprises in different ways, so do organizational scholars approach the phenomenon of surprise from many different perspectives. Surprise can be viewed as endogenous or exogenous, positive or negative, man-made or nature-driven, etc. Some organization theories suggest that people and organizations are limited in the ways in which they can address and handle surprise, while others treat surprise as an essential part of organizational life, bringing about unlimited possibilities for renewal, innovation and knowledge.

Surprise, in its popular conception, has a largely unplanned and non-deterministic character. Yet, surprises can be, and at times are, meticulously planned and staged (from surprise celebrations for colleagues and surprising experiences for customers, to surprise attacks to adversaries), thus perceiving surprise to be manageable and placing it in the domain of organizational strategy. Surprise, however, can equally arise from the natural world (e.g., as an act of God) and other uncontrollable events (e.g. wars and terrorist attacks). In that, organizational members may not be able to resort to routines or customary ways of control, and may have to come up with new ways of collaboration and of dealing with the resulting ruptures and disorder. It is this ambivalent and complex nature of surprise that makes it worthwhile to explore further.

The 2018 EGOS Colloquium will be hosted in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, a highly liberal market economy and home of innovators, with a variety of world-scale contributions, such as Skype, TransferWise, or novel e-government practices. Estonia, however, is also a country that has itself experienced, over the last 30 years, manifold surprises. From being part of the Soviet Union to joining the European Union, it has been on a journey of the unexpected. Its organizations (be they public, business or non-profit) have had to cope with major transformations and transitions.

The theme of the 2018 EGOS Colloquium thus provides an opportunity for organizational scholars to reflect on the phenomenon of surprise and challenge and rethink its different conceptualizations. It also invites to examine and analyze the meaning of organizational scholarship in light of an environment full of surprises – both pleasant and unpleasant ones –, across all sectors of society, and with an impact on many dimensions of organizational life. What are the implications of surprises for the way we design and engage with our organizations, as well as support our societies? How should we, as organizational scholars, research surprise, given that its implications are multiple, complex, and far from only immediate? How can we contribute to ensuring that the ways in which organizations handle (and create) surprises today do not compromise or jeopardize the wellbeing of other societies or future generations? What is the role of surprise and serendipity in our own work and field of research?

The concept of surprise covers many levels of analysis and perspectives beyond the solely organizational, and can include topics such as surprises in individual careers (e.g., non-linear, non-progressive, portfolio), in research and knowledge creation, in data and in different types of organization. We therefore invite sub-theme submissions that broadly deal with the role of surprise in different organizational contexts and settings, as well as from divergent perspectives. Specifically, we seek to foster dialogue, debate and collaboration across generations and geographies of organizational scholars on what surprise means and how it matters for organizations by providing a context for discussion that can push forward the frontiers of organizational research.

We encourage the submission of sub-theme proposals which can examine organization and surprise in all its complexity. Sub-theme proposals may address, but are not limited to, the following themes:

  1. Surprising and surprised organizations. Organizations are found in the most complex situations and contexts, at times surprisingly resistant to critical events, at other times extremely vulnerable. What are the shapes and forms that permit organizations to demonstrate exceptional, erratic or unique features, despite forces towards standardization, organizational recipes, and external pressures for compliance? What makes organizations vulnerable and less resilient to surprise? How do surprising (and surprised) organizations evolve in more settled times?
  2. Surprising experiences. The experience of surprise may differ across situations, locations, events, processes, occasions, and cultures. Experiencing organizational change processes – meetings, music, consumption, a sudden loss in market value or the announcement of layoffs – are all events, locations or practices that may trigger surprise. A deeper understanding of how experiencing and responding to surprise operates as a process (e.g. it may involve curiosity, distraction or carelessness) and the emotional responses (e.g. anxiety, exhilaration) it triggers in organizational members may expand our understanding of organizing. How are surprises organized but also disorganized? What are the surprising experiences of organizing?
  3. Surprising routines. We also look for sub-themes that address questions related to how surprise is and becomes an outcome of everyday organizing. Surprise is intimately connected to the idea of acting in accordance with a set of rules. When the rules of reality generating events of daily life are separated from the rules of thumb expectations, surprise is the outcome. As organizations and societies are becoming more and more organized, perhaps over organized, any event that goes out of the ordinary becomes an unexpected surprise. What drives routinization of surprise? How do organizations tackle surprises? How can organizations take advantage of surprises to enrich their routines?
  4. Surprising discoveries. Surprise is – or at least should be – a constant feature of organizational scholarship. It emerges in the margins of field boundaries, in the gaps among assumptions, expectations, and reality, and in the puzzles posed by predictions that fail. How can serendipity and trespassing give new energy to the study of organizations? What are the methodological approaches and theoretical connections that generate surprising results? How can these pave the way not only to interesting insights but also to brave new ideas for addressing critical problems in the world, such as climate, migration, inequalities, poverty, war, starvation, etc.?

Please take notice of the Guidelines and criteria for the submission of sub-theme proposals for EGOS Colloquia!


  • Submissions for sub-theme proposals are expected to include an outline of the proposed sub-theme and the area of interest (maximum of 2 pages), as well as a short description of the team of convenors, including their academic background and experience. Submissions should be linked with the overall Colloquium theme, but other submissions are also welcome. The sub-theme proposals should avoid repetition of the overall Colloquium theme in their titles.
  • Convenor teams should be international in composition (convenors from at least two countries), reflecting the diversity of EGOS, and should include at least one highly reputed scholar and one convenor with experience in organizing and running EGOS sub-themes. The maximum convenor team size is three scholars. Proposals from teams of four or more convenors will not be considered.

Submission period (online via the EGOS website):

  • Start: Thursday, September 15, 2016
  • End:  Tuesday, November 15, 2016, 23:59:59 CET

For any further questions, please contact

  • either Angelika Zierer, Head of EGOS Executive Secretariat:
  • or Mike Geppert, Head of the Academic Organizing Committee: