Managing the Unexpected

Kathleen M. Sutcliffe and Marlys K. Christianson

in The Oxford Handbook of Positive Organizational Scholarship

Published in print August 2011 | ISBN: 9780199734610
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Library of Psychology

Managing the Unexpected

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  • Organizational Psychology
  • Social Psychology



Positive organizational scholarship is concerned with dynamics that enable organizational strength and flourishing. In this chapter, we argue that organizations that manage unexpected events and prevent small problems from becoming large crises are engaged in important acts of positive organizing. We assume that adverse events, crises, and accidents are not inevitable; rather, they result from small problems, surprises, and lapses that shift, grow, and escalate until they are too big to handle. This chapter focuses on a set of capabilities that allows organizations to contain and repair vulnerability. Specifically, we identify a set of critical capabilities that involve attention, awareness, and action: these include capabilities for attending to, making sense of, and not explaining away discrepancies; capabilities for updating and coordinating understanding as problems unfold; and capabilities for actively managing problems through containment and resilience. We end with avenues for future research and practice.

Keywords: Managing unexpected events; perturbations; weak signals; problem finding; coping with surprise; resilience; high reliability organizing

Article.  9202 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Organizational Psychology ; Social Psychology

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