SWG 09: Organizational Paradox: Engaging Plurality, Tensions and Contradictions


Costas Andriopoulos, City, University London, United Kingdom
Josh Keller, UNSW Sydney, Australia
Marianne W. Lewis, University of Cincinnati, USA
Ella Miron-Spektor, INSEAD, Europe Campus, France
Camille Pradies, EDHEC Business School, France
Jonathan Schad, King’s College London, United Kingdom
Wendy K. Smith, University of Delaware, USA

Organizational life faces unprecedented complexity. Multiple and contradictory goals, competing stakeholder demands, and fast-paced change increasingly give rise to persistent and interwoven tensions, such as today and tomorrow, social missions and business demands, centralization and decentralization, stability and change. Whereas traditional management research emphasizes contingency approaches to make explicit choices between alternatives of a tension, a paradox approach underlines the value of embracing competing demands simultaneously (Lewis, 2000). A paradox depicts a tension’s elements as contradictory and inconsistent, yet also interdependent, synergistic, and mutually constituted (Farjoun, 2010; Smith & Lewis, 2011). Engaging competing demands simultaneously enables long term organizational sustainability.

The aim of SWG 09 is to advance our understanding of plurality, tensions, and contradictions to better engage them for managerial practice (see Putnam et al., 2016; Schad et al., 2016).

Throughout continuous sub-themes at EGOS Colloquia, we have been able to further our understanding of tensions and contradictions, and thereby define clear boundaries and definitions. Building on a thriving community of scholars, we now seek to apply new theoretical terrains and discuss methodological possibilities to uncover the full potential of paradox research.
This SWG aims to specifically explore and advance research on plurality, tensions, and contradictions as follow:

  • Understanding the sources of tensions: Tensions are depicted as inherent to organizing as well as socially constructed (Smith & Lewis, 2011). Recent research explains that tensions can be rooted in complex systems, which is why they can be latent and become salient (Schad & Bansal, 2018).

  • Multiple, interwoven tensions: Given the pervasiveness of multiple tensions, scholars may study co-occurrence of tensions (Jarzabkowski et al., 2013), which span levels of an organizations (Andriopoulos & Lewis, 2009), and can be interrelationships among tensions (Sheep et al., 2017).


  • Microfoundations: What are the microfoundations of paradoxes (Miron-Spektor et al., 2018)? What is the role of emotions – anxiety, ambivalence, vulnerability – in sustaining or leveraging paradoxical tensions (Vince & Broussine, 1996)? What are the consequences for management and organization (Hahn et al., 2014)?

  • Paradoxes of grand and complex challenges: Given the changing landscape of organizations and the environment they are embedded in (social values, political orientations, technological, etc.) how does paradox as a lens inform in dealing with grand and complex challenges?

  • New methods in paradox research: What are new methods or combinations of methods that can help us examine paradoxes empirically (Andriopoulos & Gotsi, 2017; Jarzabkowski et al., 2019)? 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?

  • The challenge of managing paradox: Addressing paradoxes is challenging (Denis et al., 2001), since tensions surface uncertainty and ambiguity (Tsoukas & Chia, 2002). What are the risks of engaging paradoxes (Pina e Cunha & Putnam, 2019)?


  • Abdallah, C., Denis, J.L., & Langley, A. (2011): “Having your cake and eating it too Discourses of transcendence and their role in organizational change dynamics.” Journal of Organizational Change Management, 24 (3), 333–348.
  • Andriopoulos, C., & Gotsi, M. (2017): “Methods of Paradox.” In: W. Smith, M. Lewis, P. Jarzabkowski & A. Langley (eds.): The Oxford Handbook of Organizational Paradox. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 513–528.
  • Andriopoulos, C., & Lewis, M.W. (2009): “Exploitation-Exploration Tensions and Organizational Ambidexterity: Managing Paradoxes of Innovation.” Organization Science, 20 (4), 696–717.
  • Denis, J.-L., Lamothe, L., & Langley, A. (2001): “The Dynamics of Collective Leadership and Strategic Change in Pluralistic Organizations.” Academy of Management Journal, 44 (4), 809–837.
  • Farjoun, M. (2010): “Beyond Dualism: Stability and Change as Duality.” Academy of Management Review, 35 (2), 202–225.
  • 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.
  • Jarzabkowski, P., Bednarek, R., Chalkias, K., & Cacciatori, E. (2019): “Exploring inter-organizational paradoxes: Methodological lessons from a study of a grand challenge.” Strategic Organization, 17 (1), 120–132.
  • Jarzabkowski, P., Lê, J.K., & Van de Ven, A.H. (2013): “Responding to competing strategic demands: How organizing, belonging, and performing paradoxes coevolve.” Strategic Organization, 11 (3), 245–280.
  • Lewis, M.W. (2000): “Exploring Paradox: Toward a More Comprehensive Guide.” Academy of Management Review, 25( 4), 760–776.
  • Miron-Spektor, E., Ingram, A., Keller, J., Smith, W.K., & Lewis, M.W. (2018): “Microfoundations of Organizational Paradox: The Problem Is How We Think about the Problem.” Academy of Management Journal, 61 (1), 26–45.
  • Pina e Cunha, M., & Putnam, L.L. (2019): “Paradox theory and the paradox of success.” Strategic Organization, 17 (1), 95–106.
  • Putnam, L.L., Fairhurst, G.T., & Banghart, S. (2016): “Contradictions, Dialectics, and Paradoxes in Organizations: A Constitutive Approach.” Academy of Management Annals, 10 (1), 65–171.
  • Schad, J., & Bansal, P. (2018): “Seeing the Forest and the Trees: How a Systems Perspective Informs Paradox Research.” Journal of Management Studies, 55 (8), 1491–1506.
  • Schad, J., Lewis, M.W., Raisch, S., & Smith, W.K. (2016): “Paradoxical Research in Management Science: Looking Backward to Move Forward.” Academy of Management Annals, 10 (1), 5–64.
  • Sheep, M.L., Fairhurst, G.T., & Khazanchi, S. (2017): “Knots in the Discourse of Innovation: Investigating Multiple Tensions in a Reacquired Spin-off.” Organization Studies, 38 (3–4), 463–488.
  • Smith, W.K., & Lewis, M.W. (2011): “Towards a Theory of Paradox: A Dynamic Equilibrium Model of Organizing.” Academy of Management Review, 36 (2), 381–403.
  • Tsoukas, H., & Chia, R. (2002): “On organizational becoming: Rethinking organizational change.” Organization Science, 13 (5), 567–582.
  • Vince, R., & Broussine, M. (1996): “Paradox, Defense and Attachment: Accessing and Working with Emotions and Relations Underlying Organizational Change.” Organization Studies, 17 (1), 1–21.

About the Coordinators

Costas Andriopoulos is Professor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship and Associate Dean for Entrepreneurship at The Business School (formerly Cass), City, University of London, United Kingdom. His main research interests focus on how organizational paradoxes enable innovation in the face of changing technological environments. In particular, he studies how entrepreneurial firms in high-velocity markets can excel at both incremental (exploiting current capabilities) and discontinuous innovation (exploring into new space). His research has been published in journals such as Organization Science, Journal of Product Innovation Management, Human Relations, Long Range Planning, California Management Review, European Journal of Marketing, International Small Business Journal, among others.

Josh Keller is an Associate Professor of Management in the Business School at UNSW Sydney, Australia. His research focuses on the cultural and cognitive foundations of organizational and strategic paradoxes. His work has been published in Academy of Management Journal, Human Relations, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Organization Science, Organization Studies, and Research in the Sociology of Organizations.

Marianne W. Lewis is Dean and Professor of Management at the Lindner College of Business, University of Cincinnati, USA. She is an international thought leader in the field of leadership and organizational paradoxes. Change and complexity accentuate tensions – competing demands, contradictory pressures and challenging double-binds. Her research applies a provocative paradox lens to such domains as organizational change, governance, and innovation. Her work appears in the leading management journals, including the Harvard Business Review, Academy of Management Journal, Organization Science, and Journal of Operations Management.
Ella Miron-Spektor is an Associate Professor at INSEAD, Europe Campus, Fontainebleau, France. Her research interests include creativity and innovation, organizational and team learning, paradoxes, and emotions. Her work has been published in leading journals, such as the Academy of Management Journal, Journal of Applied Psychology, Organization Science, Harvard Business Review, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, and Journal of Organizational Behavior, among others.

Camille Pradies is an Assistant Professor of Management at EDHEC Business School, France. Her research focuses on paradoxes and emotions such as ambivalence at the individual and group levels and on the organizational and institutional conditions that influence them. Camille’s research has appeared in Organization Science and Organization Studies.

Jonathan Schad is Lecturer in Strategy at King’s Business School, King’s College London, United Kingdom. His research draws on paradox theory to better understand the fundamental tensions contemporary organizations confront. His work has been published in journals such as Academy of Management Annals, Journal of Management Studies, and Strategic Organization.

Wendy K. Smith is Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Alfred Lerner School of Business at the University of Delaware, USA. Her research focuses on strategic paradoxes – how leaders and senior teams effectively respond to contradictory agendas. She studies how organizations and their leaders simultaneously explore new possibilities while exploiting existing competencies, and how social enterprises simultaneously attend to social missions and financial goals. Wendy’s research has been published in journals such as Academy of Management Journal, Academy of Management Review, Administrative Science Quarterly, Harvard Business Review, Organization Science, and Management Science. At the EGOS Colloquium 2008 in Amsterdam, Wendy was awarded the EGOS Best Paper Award.