Sub-theme 06: [SWG] Taken by Surprise: Expanding our Understanding of Paradoxes and Contradictions in Organizational Life

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Josh Keller
Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
Ella Miron-Spektor
Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, Israel
Jonathan Schad
University of Geneva, Switzerland

Call for Papers

Surprises frequently occur in organizational life, and paradox theory has provided useful insights on the unexpected. A paradox is a “persistent contradiction between interdependent elements” (Schad et al., 2016, p. 10) – elements that seem logical in isolation but surprising and irrational when appearing simultaneously (Smith & Lewis, 2011). Such contradictory elements continually surface in the context of organizational life. Paradoxes have been detected at the individual (Zhang et al., 2015), team (Gebert et al., 2010), and organizational (Schmitt & Raisch, 2013) level. Specifically, scholars have adopted a paradox lens to understand tensions across a wide range of organizational phenomena, including creativity (Miron-Spektor et al., 2011), identity (Kreiner et al., 2015), and sustainability (Hahn et al., 2014). Engaging the elements of a tension can be a source of surprising novelty and spark interesting theorizing (Davis, 1971).
As paradox research continues to grow, we are moving toward a meta-perspective that develops principles on organizational tensions across contexts and provides a set of assumptions. Recent empirical studies further substantiate some of these assumptions: Quantitative variance-based studies shed light on the antecedents and outcomes of individuals’ approaches to paradoxes (Keller et al., 2016; Miron-Spektor et al., 2017), while qualitative process-based studies capture the relationships between multiple parties in organizational approaches to paradoxes (Bednarek et al., 2016; Knight & Paroutis, 2016). While extending our understanding of a paradox meta-theory, new insights will confront surprises, since paradoxes manifest across levels (Andriopoulos & Lewis, 2009) and exist alongside dilemmas and dialectics (Hargrave & Van de Ven, 2017). While early paradox research has essentially tried to capture surprises, we think it is time to surprise paradox meta-theory.
In this sub-theme, we continue to welcome submissions that explore contradicting, yet interdependent elements. However, we also look for new ways and surprises that challenge our understanding of how paradoxical tensions impact our thinking and reflections on organizational life. Specifically, we invite papers that explore some of the following, illustrative questions:

  • Surprising paradoxical insights. Paradox theory has been used as a lens to examine a wide range of topics. What surprising new insights on these and other topics can be addressed with a paradox lens? Can we leverage paradoxical insights to surprise the academic-practitioner relationship and to identify surprising ways of teaching paradox? What surprising insights do we gain from viewing organizational phenomena, such as diversity, social entrepreneurship, and work-life balance through a paradox lens?
  • Surprises. What is paradoxical about the nature of surprise? How do surprises spark paradoxical relationships? How can we empirically capture surprises? Can surprises be anticipated?
  • New cultural, structural and psychological factors. What are new and potentially surprising insights on the antecedents of paradoxical cognitions, behaviors, strategies, and emotions? What combinations of cultural, structural and psychological factors provide new insights on paradoxes? What are surprising implications for managing tensions in different cultures and in multicultural environments? What surprises about paradoxes can be uncovered by looking at different levels of analyses (e.g., individual, team, organization, field) or their cross-level relationships?
  • New methods in paradox research. What are new methods or combinations of methods that can help us examine paradoxes empirically? Are there new ways of triangulation informed by paradox theory, combining qualitative, quantitative and experimental approaches? Can paradox theory benefit from the analysis of big data or simulations? How can paradox be used to explore tensions between theory and methods?



  • Andriopoulos, C., & Lewis, M.W. (2009): “Exploitation-Exploration Tensions and Organizational Ambidexterity: Managing Paradoxes of Innovation.” Organization Science, 20 (4), 696–717.
  • Bednarek, R., Paroutis, S., & Sillince, J. (2017): “Transcendence through Rhetorical Practices: Responding to Paradox in the Science Sector.” Organization Studies, 38 (1), 77–101.
  • Davis, M.S. (1971): “That’s Interesting! Towards a Phenomenology of Sociology and a Sociology of Phenomenology.” Philosophy of the Social Sciences, 1 (4), 309–344.
  • Gebert, D., Boerner, S., & Kearney, E. (2010): “Fostering Team Innovation: Why Is It Important to Combine Opposing Action Strategies?” Organization Science, 21 (3), 593–608.
  • Hahn, T., Preuss, L., Pinkse, J., & Figge, F. (2014): “Cognitive Frames in Corporate Sustainability: Managerial Sensemaking with Paradoxical and Business Case Frames.” Academy of Management Review, 39 (4), 463–487.
  • Hargrave, T.J., & Van de Ven, A.H. (2017): “Integrating Dialectical and Paradox Perspectives on Managing Contradictions in Organizations.” Organization Studies, 38 (3–4), 319–339.
  • Keller, J., Loewenstein, J., & Yan, J. (2017): “Culture, Conditions and Paradoxical Frames.” Organization Studies, 38 (3-4), 539–560.
  • Knight, E., & Paroutis, S. (2016): “Becoming Salient: The TMT Leader’s Role in Shaping the Interpretive Context of Paradoxical Tensions.” Organization Studies, 38 (3–4), 403–432.
  • Kreiner, G.E., Hollensbe, E., Sheep, M.L, Smith, B.R., & Kataria, N. (2015): “Elasticity and the Dialectic Tensions of Organizational Identity: How Can We Hold Together While We Are Pulling Apart?” Academy of Management Journal, 58 (4), 981–1011.
  • Miron-Spektor, E., Gino, F., & Argote, L. (2011): “Paradoxical frames and creative sparks: Enhancing individual creativity through conflict and integration.” Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 116 (2), 229–240.
  • Miron-Spektor, E., Ingram, A., Keller, J., Smith, W., & Lewis, M. (2017): Microfoundations of Organizational Paradox: The Problem is How We Think About the Problem.” Academy of Management Journal, forthcoming.
  • Schad, J., Lewis, M.W., Raisch, S., & Smith, W.K. (2016): “Paradox Research in Management Science: Looking Back to Move Forward.” Academy of Management Annals, 10 (1), 5–64.
  • Schmitt, A., & Raisch, S. (2013): “Corporate Turnarounds: The Duality of Retrenchment and Recovery.” Journal of Management Studies, 50 (7), 1216–1244.
  • 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.
  • Zhang, Y., Waldman, D.A., Han, Y.-L., & Li, X.-B. (2015): “Paradoxical Leader Behaviors in People Management: Antecedents and Consequences.” Academy of Management Journal, 58 (2), 538–566.
Josh Keller is an Assistant Professor of Strategy, Management and Organizations at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. He received his PhD from the University of Texas at Austin, USA. His research focuses on cultural, cognitive and linguistic approaches to the study of organizational paradoxes. His work has appeared in ‘Academy of Management Journal’, ‘Organization Science’, ‘Organization Studies’, ‘Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes’, Journal of Business Ethics’, and ‘Management and Organization Review’.
Ella Miron-Spektor is an Assistant Professor of Organizational Psychology at the Faculty of Industrial Engineering and Management, Technion, Israel. She received her PhD from the Technion and held a post-doctoral position at Tepper School of Business, Carnegie Mellon University, USA. Her research interests include paradoxes of creativity and learning, culture and emotions. Her work has appeared in ‘Academy of Management Journal,’ ‘Organization Science’, ‘Journal of Applied Psychology’, ‘Harvard Business Review’, and ‘Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes’, among others.
Jonathan Schad is a final year PhD student in Management at the University of Geneva, Geneva School of Economics and Management, Switzerland. His research focuses on the philosophical roots of paradox and how organizations manage tensions between stakeholders. He holds graduate degrees with an interdisciplinary emphasis on business, philosophy, and political science from the Universities of Munich and Konstanz, Germany. His work on paradox has been published in the ‘Academy of Management Annals’.
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