Publication date (electronic): 30 June 2016
Paradox in organizations seen as social complex systems
Mr. Braathen holds a Master of Science in Control & Electrical Engineering from Norwegian University for Science and Technology, and from University of Washington. He further holds a Master of Science in Strategy and International Business from the Norwegian School of Management. Mr. Braathen is currently completing a Ph.D. at the University of Brussels, in the interdisciplinary program, focusing on complexity theory applied to strategic management and organizational theory. Mr. Braathen facilitates strategic visioning, organizational change, and leadership development for global companies in various industries.
Paradox may be the ground zero for disciplined speculation that forces individuals, organizations and societies to challenge normality and existing mental frames. Paradox can be a threat, and paradox can be a source for new insight. This paper examines how a paradox can emerge and develop in organizations. I will argue that the organization can be seen as a complex social system, and that the paradox rises as the system faces increased complexity in its environment, while equipped with an information processing architecture that reduces the complexity in an inadequate way. Following a review of classes of paradoxes: rhetorical, logical and social, the paper describes an organization as a complex social system with cognitive operations. The cognitive operations include drawing of distinctions, forming of categories, individuation of the system and the boundaries to the environment, and adaptability as a second order reorganization. The paper then discusses the dynamics and micro-foundation of how a paradox is formed based on this model. Three categories of social paradoxes: paradox of belonging, paradox of learning, and paradox of organizing, are analyzed and described as dynamic behavior in a system. The paper intends to inform a trans-disciplinary approach to describe phenomenon in organizations seen as complex social systems, and to contribute with conceptual understanding to be applied in empirical studies of paradoxical situations in organizations.
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