Resilience is a capacity developed and deployed over time rather than an effective reaction to a single event (Hamel & Välikangas, 2003; Reinmoeller & Baardwijk, 2005). Such a capacity can be expressed at different levels of aggregation, spanning from individuals to entire communities (e.g. Van Der Vegt et al., 2015). The brilliant examination of the Mann Gulch disaster conducted by Karl Weick (1993) shows that even organizations – and systems - which are designed to face risky situations can result vulnerable when exposed to the unexpected, while experiencing “erosion of sense and structure” (p. 638). As Weick (1993) anticipates, organizational improvisation (Cunha et al., 1999; Hadida et al., 2015) provides the means for exploration of alternatives (e.g. Hummels et al., 2014) to face the unpredictable. As in many artistic and emergent practices (e.g., Furu, 2013; Vera & Crossan, 2003), flexible, extemporaneous, improvised action stimulates learning from the unexpected (e.g. Miner et al., 2001), that complement what routines cannot prescribe (e.g. Sutcliffe & Vogus, 2003). Hence organizational improvisation contributes to resilience as it turns resource constraints into opportunities, stimulating resourcefulness and imagination (Gibbert & Välikangas, 2004), leveraging upon organizational ingenuity and imaginative recombination of resources (Dolmans et al., 2014; Korhohen & Välikangas, 2014). The quest for resilience is particularly central in organizations and systems that are designed for high-reliability (e.g. Milosevic, Bass & Combs, 2015). Reality has proven, however, that even technologically sophisticated systems do fail. Failure occurs at the boundary of human and technology interactions in extreme environments. Among others, cases such as Mann Gulch or the AF447 flight (Oliver et al., 2017) show that surprises often creep through design, technology and coordination in unsuspecting manners. In line with previous work, we define surprises as events that happen unexpectedly or expected events that take unexpected shapes (Cunha et al., 2006). So, some question arises: How does the predictable become surprising for organizations designed to be resilient? How does such a design for resilience turn into vulnerability? We answer these questions through the analysis of the tragedy of EN236-1, the “road of death” (Central Portugal), in which 64 people lost their lives in June 2017. We dissect the process from an organizational perspective showing that severe but not exceptional conditions caused a communications technology breakdown. This resulted in failures of coordination that diminished the system’s resilience by impeding proper improvisation. On the contrary, those who needed communications to improvise with a general understanding of the situation, improvised ad hoc. The result was the most tragic wildfire in the country: the biggest and the most lethal fire ever observed, in Portugal.

Freelance improvisation and resilience: Lessons from the EN236-1 tragedy / Cunha, Miguel Pina e.; Abrantes, António; Clegg, Stewart; Giustiniano, Luca; Rego, Arménio. - (2018), pp. "-"-"-". ((Intervento presentato al convegno LAEMOS 2018 - Latin American and European Organization Studies Conference tenutosi a Buenos Aires, Argentina nel March 21-24, 2018.

Freelance improvisation and resilience: Lessons from the EN236-1 tragedy

Luca Giustiniano;
2018

Abstract

Resilience is a capacity developed and deployed over time rather than an effective reaction to a single event (Hamel & Välikangas, 2003; Reinmoeller & Baardwijk, 2005). Such a capacity can be expressed at different levels of aggregation, spanning from individuals to entire communities (e.g. Van Der Vegt et al., 2015). The brilliant examination of the Mann Gulch disaster conducted by Karl Weick (1993) shows that even organizations – and systems - which are designed to face risky situations can result vulnerable when exposed to the unexpected, while experiencing “erosion of sense and structure” (p. 638). As Weick (1993) anticipates, organizational improvisation (Cunha et al., 1999; Hadida et al., 2015) provides the means for exploration of alternatives (e.g. Hummels et al., 2014) to face the unpredictable. As in many artistic and emergent practices (e.g., Furu, 2013; Vera & Crossan, 2003), flexible, extemporaneous, improvised action stimulates learning from the unexpected (e.g. Miner et al., 2001), that complement what routines cannot prescribe (e.g. Sutcliffe & Vogus, 2003). Hence organizational improvisation contributes to resilience as it turns resource constraints into opportunities, stimulating resourcefulness and imagination (Gibbert & Välikangas, 2004), leveraging upon organizational ingenuity and imaginative recombination of resources (Dolmans et al., 2014; Korhohen & Välikangas, 2014). The quest for resilience is particularly central in organizations and systems that are designed for high-reliability (e.g. Milosevic, Bass & Combs, 2015). Reality has proven, however, that even technologically sophisticated systems do fail. Failure occurs at the boundary of human and technology interactions in extreme environments. Among others, cases such as Mann Gulch or the AF447 flight (Oliver et al., 2017) show that surprises often creep through design, technology and coordination in unsuspecting manners. In line with previous work, we define surprises as events that happen unexpectedly or expected events that take unexpected shapes (Cunha et al., 2006). So, some question arises: How does the predictable become surprising for organizations designed to be resilient? How does such a design for resilience turn into vulnerability? We answer these questions through the analysis of the tragedy of EN236-1, the “road of death” (Central Portugal), in which 64 people lost their lives in June 2017. We dissect the process from an organizational perspective showing that severe but not exceptional conditions caused a communications technology breakdown. This resulted in failures of coordination that diminished the system’s resilience by impeding proper improvisation. On the contrary, those who needed communications to improvise with a general understanding of the situation, improvised ad hoc. The result was the most tragic wildfire in the country: the biggest and the most lethal fire ever observed, in Portugal.
Resilience, improvisation, organization theory, organization design
Freelance improvisation and resilience: Lessons from the EN236-1 tragedy / Cunha, Miguel Pina e.; Abrantes, António; Clegg, Stewart; Giustiniano, Luca; Rego, Arménio. - (2018), pp. "-"-"-". ((Intervento presentato al convegno LAEMOS 2018 - Latin American and European Organization Studies Conference tenutosi a Buenos Aires, Argentina nel March 21-24, 2018.
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: http://hdl.handle.net/11385/177286
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