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According to Friedrich Nietzsche, artists impose restrictions on themselves to encourage creativity and even have a way of " making things difficult " – imposing new constraints on themselves within which they have to dance. At least in the arts, it is difficulty rather than ease which promotes creativity in accordance with this view. This goes beyond the well-known idea of rules and other structures not only restricting but also enabling creativity; it also goes beyond insight into the creativity-enhancing effects of constraints, as recently emphasized in organization studies. Nietzsche adds three dimensions to this dialectic: time and the process of dancing inspired and encouraged by constraints; the opposition of old and new constraints; and the quality of intended, stimulating self-binding. We see this as an opportunity to explore the inspiring potential of Nietzsche's piece about arts, " Dancing in chains " , when it comes to the different realm of creative practices and creativity in and of organizations. Such an exploration can obviously not aim to offer recipes of how to bring about valuable novelty, but simply intends to identify pertinent themes, issues and questions for organization studies – topics and aspects brought into a new or sharper light when looked at from Nietzsche's perspective and that of some other philosophers, including Jon Elster's analyses of constraints in general and of the complications of self-binding in order to promote creativity in particular. Also, we consider Míchel de Certeau's " silent production " and Martha Feldman's improvisational routines as being cases of " dancing in chains " .
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Dancing in chains: Creative practices in/of organizations*
Günther Ortmann
Universität Witten/Herdecke, Germany
Jörg Sydow
Freie Universität Berlin, Germany
According to Friedrich Nietzsche, artists impose restrictions on themselves to encourage creativity and even
have a way of “making things difficult” imposing new constraints on themselves within which they have to
dance. At least in the arts, it is difficulty rather than ease which promotes creativity in accordance with this view.
This goes beyond the well-known idea of rules and other structures not only restricting but also enabling
creativity; it also goes beyond insight into the creativity-enhancing effects of constraints, as recently emphasized
in organization studies. Nietzsche adds three dimensions to this dialectic: time and the process of dancing
inspired and encouraged by constraints; the opposition of old and new constraints; and the quality of intended,
stimulating self-binding. We see this as an opportunity to explore the inspiring potential of Nietzsche’s piece
about arts, “Dancing in chains”, when it comes to the different realm of creative practices and creativity in and of
organizations. Such an exploration can obviously not aim to offer recipes of how to bring about valuable novelty,
but simply intends to identify pertinent themes, issues and questions for organization studies topics and aspects
brought into a new or sharper light when looked at from Nietzsche’s perspective and that of some other
philosophers, including Jon Elster’s analyses of constraints in general and of the complications of self-binding in
order to promote creativity in particular. Also, we consider Míchel de Certeau’s “silent production” and Martha
Feldman’s improvisational routines as being cases of “dancing in chains”.
Creativity, innovation, social theory, philosophy, organizational processes and practices
Forthcoming in Organization Studies 38 (2017).
The phrase “dancing in chains” is taken from Nietzsche’s (1986) “Human, All Too Human”, a
book in which he philosophizes among others about creativity in the arts. Nietzsches piece is
about the creativity-provoking, generative potential of constraints, or to be more precisely: of
self-imposed constraints, and this is what we suggest transferring to creative practices in/of
Dancing in chains. With every Greek artist, poet and writer one has to ask: what is the
new constraint he has imposed upon himself and through which he charms his
contemporaries (so that he finds imitators)? For that which we call “invention” (as in
metrics, for example) is always such a self-imposed fetter. “Dancing in chains”, making
things difficult for oneself and then spreading over it the illusion of ease and facility
that is the artifice they want to demonstrate to us. Already in Homer we can perceive an
abundance of inherited formulae epic narrative rules within which he had to dance: and he
himself created additional new conventions for those who came after him. This was the
school in which the Greek poets were raised: firstly to allow a multiplicity of constraints
to be imposed upon oneself; then to devise an additional new constraint, impose it upon
oneself and conquer it with charm and grace: so that both the constraint and its conquest
are noticed and admired (Nietzsche, 1986, p. 343).
For a long time it was, and in fact still is, common sense that freedom leeway, time, room
for maneuvering, and an open organizational culture as opposed to clear and unequivocal
goals and a multitude of strict formal rules and sufficient resources are inclined to promote
creativity, while constraints and insufficient resources are more likely to inhibit it (cf.
Amabile, 1996; Shalley et al., 2004). However, Nietzsche, not dissimilar to recent analyses of
constrained creativity and organizational ingenuity (Stokes, 2006; Hoegl, Gibbert, &
Mazursky, 2008; Gibbert & Scranton, 2009; Weiss, Hoegl, & Gibbert, 2011; Honig, Lampel,
& Drori, 2014; Lampel, Honig, & Drori, 2014; Rosso 2014; Caniëls & Rietzschel, 2015;
Roskes 2015), had long since considered the dialectical relations between freedom and
constraint. To be sure, some of these complications have by now become common sense:
constraints such as rules both restrict and enable, as we know from Anthony Giddens’ (1984)
theory of structuration; they are “enabling limits” (Samuel Weber, 2001, pp. 18-19, 292, 295,
fn. 5).
Nietzsche’s piece, however, adds three dimensions to these dialectics. The first is: time,
temporality, and the process of dancing inspired by constraints. Secondly, following the
famous words in Karl Marx’ critique of Hegel’s philosophy of right (2000, p. 74, commenting
on German society) one may say: Nietzsche suggests forcing the “petrified relationships to
dance by singing their own tune to them”, in our context: by drawing attention not only to the
opposition of freedom and constraint and the process of “dancing” but in the same spirit to
the relationship between old and new constraints: thus creating the new means by dancing in
old chains, but forging new chains at the same time. Thirdly, Nietzsche includes the
dimension of intended self-binding. This is of particular importance for organizations because
organizations intentionally impose many of the existing constraints upon themselves. For
Nietzsche, these three dimensions add up to the guideline of “making things difficult” in order
to provoke and stimulate creativity. How self-binding relates to creativity is what so different
a thinker as Jon Elster (1984, 2000) has dealt with, too, like Nietzsche, reflecting on creativity
in the arts. We will return to this issue later on.
These are the reasons why we, during our investigations into the problem of creations and
creativity1 in and of organizations, found it useful to take a closer look at Nietzsche’s
metaphor and the sequence of “old chains dancing new chains” in the course of time. The
following is organized according to this three-step approach and makes use of studies of
organizations, several of which focus explicitly on creative practice.
In the section that follows this introduction, we take a short look at old chains (“old” in
the sense of “given at the time of the attempt to be creative”), though just insofar as the issues
of intentionality and self-binding are at stake: the well-known organizational inertia;
difficulties to intend creations because of the Platonic search paradox difficulties which are
similar to Elster’s states that cannot be deliberately intended; and self-binding, intended by
organizations but unintentionally constraining creative practices. This calls for the ensuing
discussion of the problems of intentionality in general, and collective and even corporate
intentions in particular. The aim of this section is to remind us of the traditional, yet already
differentiated view of constraints impacting creativity in and of organizations.
Our next, main section, however, is about dancing within these constraints. We initially
try to elaborate on freedom and constraints and what it means with respect to organizational
creativity. First, we suggest a typology of chains in which corporate actors may dance,
concentrating, like Nietzsche, on intentionally self-imposed chains. While Nietzsche,
however, is concerned with self-imposed constraints aiming at creativity alone, we also
consider those which aim at efficiency and expectability because they allow for some form of
“dancing” as well, namely for being creative within “improvisational routines” à la Martha
Feldman and for what Michel de Certeau called “silent production”; we discuss these next.
Then we come to the subject of self-imposed constraints aiming at creativity. We make a
distinction between constraints in the sense of “making things difficult” à la Nietzsche on the
1 We cannot deal here with the important distinction between creative practices on the one hand and creativity as
an ability or potential on the other (see, however, Caniëls & Rietzschel, 2015). We take it (a) that they
recursively constitute each other the practices constituting the ability and vice versa and (b) that there is such
thing as creativity, not only of the individual, but of collective or corporate actors as well. Creativity of
organizations refers to a new level of emergence from individual creativity.
one hand, and the similar though different principle “less is more”, as analyzed by Elster, on
the other. In the final part of this section, we present a historical example, taking the word
“dance” not metaphorically, but literally: the creation by Afro-Americans of new ways of
dancing by dealing creatively (and even with polemic intentions) with the old rules and
conventions of dancing from the early decades of the last century. Some attention has recently
been paid in historiography to the relation of dancing and working in view of (post-) Fordism
and, as is of interest here, to resistance as a source of creativity. At the end of this section we
draw conclusions, asking what this case yields for organization studies.
In the following section on new chains, we deal with intended constraints à la Nietzsche
and Elster intended to foster creativity. Here, our paradigmatic example will be the Japanese
haiku. This example will be taken first of all as a metaphor for Nietzsche’s “making things
difficult” and for Elster’s “less is more” being ways of promoting creativity, then literally as a
means for organizational creation. On the other hand, we call attention to “intended
passivity”, which could be considered as being in the spirit of Nietzsche and Elster as well.
We hence devote a paragraph of this section to the issue of intentionally refraining from
Finally, we offer a conclusion, discuss some limitations of our study and point to one
particular desideratum of research on organizational creativity, namely the crucial question of
determining the circumstances under which constraints will promote creativity, and when they
will hinder it.
Old Chains
(1) Organizational inertia. We take “chain” as a metaphor for the constraints which play a
main role within models of rational choice in general and in Herbert Simon’s (e.g. 1955)
behavioral model in particular (and, as we will see, an important but quite different part in
recent research on organizational creativity). Organizations are sometimes considered to be
“systems of constraints” (Buck, 1966) as they impose constraints on decisions and actions in
order to secure coordination, alignment, efficiency, expectability, complexity reduction and
repetition, an “again and again”, and insofar counteract creation and innovation. This is
common sense, and is in accordance with theories and empirical findings regarding
organizational inertia and the abstinence from innovation and creativity of certain
bureaucratic and/or traditional types of organizations such as large corporations, public
authorities, sport associations, and religious and educational organizations (e.g. Hannan &
Freeman, 1984; Amburgey, Kelley, & Barnett, 1993). We do not have to go deeper into this
matter but just emphasize that this is an emergent abstinence: the unintended result of
organizational constraints, mostly intentionally self-imposed in order to fulfill functional
needs such as coordination, efficiency etc.
(2) States difficult to intend. Not focusing on organizations, the Norwegian sociologist
and philosopher Jon Elster (1983) emphasizes the role of certain states that are essentially by-
products. These are states one cannot directly intend (intending spontaneity, e.g., is
paradoxical). Creation and being creative also can be intended only in a paradoxical way,
though for other reasons as given by Elster, namely “because one can only intend what one
can expect as being something already determined” (Waldenfels, 1990, p. 97; our transl.). To
expect something as having already been determined (definite as opposed to indefinite),
however, is impossible because of the Platonic search paradox. In the dialogue Meno, it reads:
“(A) man cannot search … for what he does not know, because he does not know what to
look for” (Plato, 1980, section 80e). An illustration taken from scientific creations would be:
“an explorer can never know what he is exploring until it has been explored” (Bateson 2000,
xxiv). This Platonic inability to intend the new functions as a constraint on creation though
it is not in the black and white way of thinking of Meno. To get new ideas depends to a
certain degree upon chance and on unforeseen powers released within the creation process
they cannot be triggered off by force or even by the fervent wish to evoke them. Because of
the role of chance and unforeseen developments, no intention in the sense of the German
“Absicht” and in particular Elster’s paradoxical intentions (“willing what cannot being
willed”, Elster 1983, p. 44) can fully and precisely anticipate the intended state. Already
Alfred Schutz (1967, pp. 63-68) emphasized that every plan of action (“Entwurf”) needs
imagination and necessarily contains gaps (“Leerstellen”, empty space). While it is indeed
impossible to intend the new as a fully and precisely anticipated new state, it is quite feasible,
not least for organizations, to intend a more roughly defined state and to look for indirect or
oblique ways of intending the new (for workplace creativity, cf. Zhou & Hoever, 2014). For
this reason, indirect, oblique, entangled ways of bringing about something new and peripheral
awareness are not at all outlandish in this area. Chia and Holt (2007, pp. 63-64) deliver an
astute argument on why “the periphery is something that must be obliquely approached with
stealth. … The periphery is a preceding horizon; the attempt to capture and represent it is
indeterminable.” If focused on – which is to say intentionally observed , it is no longer
peripheral at all. Peripheral awareness,2 as dealt with by Chia and Holt, fosters organizational
2 For „The lunatic fringe“ as the home of innovation see Lederle & Gärtner (2008) who had a look at factual,
mental-cognitive, social, spatial and economical fringes. Similar to peripheral awareness is what Schreyögg and
creativity, as does a combination of preparedness and openness, enriched by generative doubt
(Pina e Cunha et al., 2015). These, however, are all states which cannot be aimed for directly.
(3) Intended self-binding. In Nietzsche’s piece quoted at the outset he speaks of “The new
constraint which he imposes upon himself”. This is the case of self-binding dealt with by
Elster (1984) under the heading “Ulysses and the Sirens”. Note, that self-binding is much
more at the disposal of organizations than at that of individuals, because organizational rules
are self-imposed, as is the allocation of resources. Organizations bind themselves, e.g., by
promising payments to its members, by setting standards for quality or compliance, by
restricting or giving leeway to! time and/or money for creative practices, and by recruiting
either cheap, but unskilled or skilled employees who may or may not contribute to
organizational creativity. We may then consider the organizations, the corporate social actors
(King, Felin, & Whetten, 2010), as being the Ulysses of modernity, and organizational self-
binding as their means of coping with contingency and complexity. (Thévenot, 1984, too,
referred to this myth as the paradigm of self-binding rules and institutions). Of course, in
many ways organizing depends on unintended constraints and will lead into unintended and
even undesirable self-binding. Organizational path-dependence, leading possibly into lock-
ins, is a significant example of this (Sydow, Schreyögg, & Koch, 2009). Ulysses in the face of
the Sirens, however, stands for intended self-binding, and that is what Elster (2000, p. 1) is
interested in: “why individuals (and organizations! Our addition) may restrict their freedom of
choice”. One reason is to overcome present contingencies and complexities. Another one,
more future-oriented, is nicely put by Friedrich von Hayek (1960, p. 180) who dealt with the
self-binding quality of state constitutions: “A constitution is a tie imposed by Peter when
sober on Peter when drunk.” A state, in danger of falling prey to the temptation of breaking its
own rules, binds itself in the knowledge of this fact by means of the constitution, just as does
the alcoholic in the knowledge of the temptations to which (s)he may be exposed. Transferred
to organizations and their rules and constitutions, this means: organizations “when sober”
dedicated to order, formal coordination, rationality, efficiency, and reliability know that
they may or will get “drunk”: that disorder, informal coordination, irrationality, inefficiency
(wasting, slack, shirking etc.) and unreliability may or even will gain acceptance and get out
of hand, and they consequently take precautionary measures. These intentions of self-binding
aim at organizational functioning and pertinent imperatives such as efficiency and
expectability. The unintended consequence of the self-binding of organizations, then, may be:
Steinmann (1987) called „undirected surveillance“, a means they recommend for dealing with weak signals
within strategic management.
hindrance or obstruction of creative possibilities. We, however, will deal with self-binding
that allows for or even actually intends to stimulate creativity, when we turn from chains to
dancing within them later.
Talking about intended self-binding, who or what is meant by the word “self”? We need
to distinguish between either individuals (e.g., members of the organizations) or the
organizations themselves as corporate actors who may or may not intend a certain kind of
binding.3 The self-binding of corporate actors is brought about not only by binding its
members, via employment contracts for instance, but also by contracting with other
organizations. But can organizations intend at all?4 Most methodological individualists would
deny it, but we consider the organization’s goals, plans, strategies and even employment
contracts, unattainable and incomplete as they may be, as cases of particularly strong
intentionality of collective intentions as dealt with by, for instance, John Searle (1990, 2010,
pp. 42-60) and Margaret Gilbert (1989; 2007) and even of corporate intentions (for the latter
see, e.g., List & Pettit 2011). Collective and corporate intentions represent an emergent kind
of intentionality, based on, but not reducible to individual intentions.5 We do not refer even to
the latter as merely subjective intentions, but, extending Searle, as institutional facts
depending on what counts as intention in the view of the actors and “the others”. Moreover,
as Rolland Munro (1993, p. 264 puts it, “intentions are always linked to signification,
legitimation and domination structures” and should never be taken as merely “internal”.
Organizations are in some sense more than individual actors “capable of deliberation, self-
reflection and goal-directed action” (King et al., 2010, p. 293), and this applies to the
intention of self-binding in particular: organizations do impose their rules (on their members
and) on themselves, and they do so not inadvertently, but intentionally in the sense of
collective and corporate intentions. As mentioned above, in 1. (2), these intentions necessarily
lack fullness and the determination of anticipation, already stipulated by Derrida in Limited
Inc. (1988, p. 56), who objected to Searle dealing with the intentions of authors of texts. This
lack of telos is the unintended restriction of every intention and it sets up a certain hindrance
of intending the new.
3 Note that this self is not the self of self-organization which refers just not to actors but to processes which
„organize“ themselves behind the back of (intentions of) actors. The lacunae within every intention mentioned
above evoke the need for self-organization.
4 For the troubles with the concept of intention in general see Giddens (1984, pp. 8-14). We are not able to do
without this concept, however; think just of Robert Merton’s (1936) concept of unintended consequences.
5 „Emergent“ in the sense of Polanyi (2009, 27-52); for more recent and advanced concepts of emergence within
analytic philosophy (which is, however, mainly concerned with natural science) see, e,g., McLaughlin (1997),
Kim (2006), Chalmers (2006); for „the „emergent organization“ see Cornelissen & Kafouros (2008).
We now move to the issue of dancing within these old chains, given at the time of creative
attempts. “Dancing”, as we will spell out in this section, we take as a metaphor for “moving
with ease and facility, partly playing by, partly deviating from the old rules and creating new
ones as well”.
The puzzling relationship between freedom and compulsion or constraint has often been
examined. A basic consideration is: creation and innovation depend on what the German
philosopher Bernhard Waldenfels (1985, p. 109) calls “Widerlager” (abutment, something to
rest upon and to turn against). There is no such thing as a pure primary production, no creatio
ex nihilo. This is true even for jazz improvisation, which has quite often been used by
organizational scholars for analyzing organizing and managing activities (Weick, 1998:
Hatch, 1999; Kamoche & Pine e Cunha, 2001; Wilf, 2015a): “you can’t improvise on nothing;
you’ve gotta improvise on something” bassist-composer Charles Mingus once said (Weick,
1998, p. 546). Improvising in jazz means: “highly disciplined ‘practices’” have to deal with
“myriad conventions” (ibid., p. 544); it is “anchored in past experience” (ibid., p. 546). The
new is dependent on “tradition as abutment”. Waldenfels (1990, p. 96) argues: “The paradox
of innovation is that it requires what it is about to renew, to replace it (our transl.)”.6 We
cannot bring about change and innovation but in the chains of the old. These chains may be
either physical or material ones, including the human bodily capacity (Slutskaya & De Cock,
2008, with regard to samba) or embodied in products, tools or other artifacts, respectively. Or
they may be of immaterial nature: rules, conventions, routines and relations, ways of thinking
and acting, Nietzsche’s inherited formulae and laws of epic narration. “Creativity”, as Richard
Feynman once said, “is imagination in a straightjacket” (quoted by Guntern, 2010, p. 54).
Weick (1989), too, used a similar metaphor to describe theory construction, pointing to the
inevitability of metaphors in the process: “disciplined imagination”. Hargadon and Sutton
(1997) emphasized that creating something new by technology brokering is directed enabled
and restricted by strong norms and routines. We, for our part, found it worthwhile to sort the
constraints under discussion according to the question of how they relate to the intentionality
of self-binding and the resulting ways of promoting creativity. This way, we ended up with
the typology we suggest now.
6 Here, we do not draw a sharp distinction between creation and innovation or, for that matter, between
exploration and exploitation (Bledow et al., 2009a, b) because even in application, implementation, routinization,
and exploitation there is or has to be a certain element of creativity at work. Moreover, (like Anderson et al.,
2014, p. 1299, referring to Paulus & Hjorth, 2002) we “suggest a cyclical, recursive process of idea generation
and implementation” (see also Slavich & Svejenova, 2016). This, of course, does not deny but in fact implies
that these distinctions are seminal and even indispensable.
A typology of chains to dance in
For organizations, there are many more cases of “dancing in chains” than those upon which
Nietzsche focused. First of all, there are constraints which are not self-imposed, but externally
imposed, e.g. by markets, the law and institutions of the field. Secondly, there are constraints
which are not intentionally, but unintentionally self-imposed, e.g. by tradition or unintended
consequences of organizational action, a particularly important case being intra-organizational
path dependencies.
But even when simply considering intentionally self-imposed constraints, Nietzsche’s
case is a specific one. Intended self-impositions of constraints may either aim at efficiency,
standardization and expectability, in these cases intentionally or unintentionally making
leeway for creativity, or they may aim to enhance creativity in the first place which makes a
difference with respect to the chances of being creative. Moreover, aiming at creativity in the
first place may be brought about either by forcing or by encouraging and inspiring creativity,
again creating different conditions for creative practices. Only the last means of enabling
creativity encouraging, inspiring is what Nietzsche had in mind. Taking these distinctions
or oppositions into account puts Nietzsche’s case in a broader framework. We consider this as
being important, because it is about the relationship of freedom and constraint more generally,
drawing attention to differences in how creativity is affected by different ways and aims of the
intentional self-binding put into practice by organizations.
One can systematize these distinctions in a way that allows one to recognize what
Nietzsche specifically focused upon Table 1):
Table 1. Nietzsche’s “Dancing in chains” within a broader framework of intentionally self-
imposed constraints
Intentionally self-imposed* organizational constraints
Primary aim
Efficiency, standardization,
expectability etc., constraints merely
giving leeway for creativity
Ways to enable
leeway for
Unintended leeway
for individual actors
Exemplary cases
(1) Free
time; sand-
(2) Feldman’s
routines; de Certeau’s
silent production
“less is more”;
“making things
(4) Scarcity as
the mother of
“dancing in chains”
* Note that “self-imposed” here means: organizations impose constraints on themselves, thus giving leeway for or restricting
the behavior of their members.
What we call the “dancing” of organizations creatively acting in self-forged chains is
brought about by, but not reducible to, the dancing of the individual actors, enabled, inspired
or forced by constraints. In the following we will deal with cases (2) and (3) only, i.e. the “de
Certeau/Feldman case” and the “Nietzsche/Elster case”, because they best reflect the phrase
“dancing in chains”. Seen from the standpoint of the individuals, case (1) – organizations
giving leeway, such as free time is a case of freedom being granted, rather than of
constraints being imposed. Case (4) scarcity as the mother of invention is, on the contrary,
more about forcing than about inspiring. We are reluctant to speak of “dancing” in this case
because it is rather about bowing to necessity. Besides, this latter case has already extensively
been explored in organization studies (recently by, e.g., Honig et al., 2014; Lampel et al.,
2014; Rosso, 2014; Roskes, 2015).
. Creativity in the “de Certeau/Feldman casecomes as a by-product seen from the
organization’s standpoint; the constraints are self-imposed not from the standpoint of the
individual, but just from that of the corporate actors. The individuals may dance but not
within self-imposed constraints in this case. The “Nietzsche/Elster case”, on the other hand,
refers to individual and/or organizational self-binding.
The “de Certeau/Feldman case”: Unintended leeway for creativity
(1) Feldman: The case of improvisational routines. As mentioned above, constraints provide
„abutments“, something to rest upon, to resist, and/or to jump or take off from. Old resources
and competences function as such abutments and are necessary to create new ones and new
ways of making use of them, and so do old rules and routines. They provide opportunity (e.g.
to criticize, protest against, subvert, improve and/or learn from the old), orientation,
inducement, pressure, motivation and commitment to create something new, whilst also
focusing attention and imposing what counts as worth striving for.
By binding actors, rules and routines cause them to get into and keep in practice,
acquiring new skills and possibly elegance Nietzsche’s “ease and facility”, “charm and
grace”. Moreover, these rules and routines are likely to exonerate organizational actors from
paying attention to a multitude of questions, considerations and problems. This way, rules and
routines set them free to concentrate on new and elegant ways of dancing within these very
structures or of applying them in some new way reproducing or transforming them in
idiosyncratic ways (Giddens, 1984; Feldman & Pentland, 2003). Moreover, dancers, and
“dancing” organizations as well, freed from paying attention to daily routines, are enabled to
direct the focus of their attention to creative solutions for well-structured problems (Ohly,
Sonnentag, & Pluntke, 2006). Or, because problems are often ill-structured, individual or
corporate actors, enabled by rules and routines, rely on the contrary, i.e. on peripheral
awareness and on scattering attention (cf. Weick, 1998, p. 552; Chia & Holt, 2007). It is quite
interesting how such studies overlap with what practitioners of creative leadership such as
Palus and Horth (2002, pp. 11-36) have to say about paying attention, recommending, for
instance, that one should”attend to the periphery“ (p. 33).
We firmly agree not only with Feldman and Pentland (2003) that “the particular courses
of action we choose are always, to some extent, novel” (p. 102) but also with Sonenshein’s
(2016) insight that creativity and routines do not constitute a dualism, but rather a duality (see
also Giddens, 1984; Farjoun, 2010). Nevertheless, we hasten to warn against applying (sic)
their important ideas excessively. Three remarks seem to us to be in place here. First, and
almost needless to say, it is and remains the predominant practical purpose of routines to
provide for iteration, stability, reliability, and coordination to rely on the old: on tried, tested
and proven ways of doing something (see, e.g., March & Simon, 1958; Becker, 2004; Weick,
1979, pp. 224-225, on thick layering of routines, and 1998, p. 552, on “Limits to
Improvisation”). Second, as recent research on routine clusters and the possible path
dependence implied by the complementarity of single routines within those clusters has
shown, the stability of routines may even be strengthened at this level in which the single
routines are entangled, at the extreme taking on the form of a lock-in (Kremser & Schreyögg,
2016). To be sure, the stability of the routines is due to processes, namely iteration; it is due to
iteratively running through the same or similar courses of behavior and practice. Third, and
quite in line with the duality assumption, “regularly acting creatively produces structures that
inevitably shape subsequent creative acts” (Sonenshein, 2016, p. 740); an insight often
overlooked by creativity researchers because of their preoccupation with agency (less so,
however, by routine scholars such as Feldman & Pentland). This is true even with jazz
improvisation, as Weick once (1998, p. 543) mentioned: “order and control are breached
extemporaneously and a new order created” (our italics).
(2) De Certeau: Silent production. The most impressive example of unintended leeway
and how to dance in it is, in our view, Michel de Certeau’s (1984) “silent production” in
some sense a subversive, almost invisible production of new ways of making use of rules,
routines and resources, ranging from instructions for use to texts in general and up to urban
architecture. These new ways are neither intended nor expected by the creators of the “first-
order producers” writers, rule-setters, architects etc. but brought about by inventive users,
consumers, readers, inhabitants of cities and other people subjugated to some systemic
impositions. They follow informal rules which sometimes become formal ones as in many
cases of creative improvements of production procedures from below, for instance from
learning communities in the sense of Wenger (2004, pp. 214-221, 241-262). These cases show
that there is no sharp line between subversion and conformism. Munro (1993) analyzed how
“members of organizations consume control technologies for ‘moves’ within language
games”, be it “in order to sustain a position of domination over subordinates” (p. 249) or in
order to make use of those technologies “as a resource of resistance” (p. 267).These moves
are very similar to de Certeau’s silent production. A more conformistic case is the silent
production option which traders have developed, making unconventional, obstinate use of
manipulated or adjusted versions of calculative instruments such as the Black Scholes formula
and the Capital Asset Pricing Model (CAPM) in their daily work (Svetlova, 2006). De
Certeau (1984) called pertinent practices “secondary production”, “poiesis”, “anti-discipline”
and “poaching” and attributed to them a “dispersed, tactical, and make-shift creativity” (p.
xiv) which “introduces dances between readers and texts (more general: between users and
what they make use of, N.N., M.M.) in a place” (ibid., p. 175). Such “poaching” occurs on the
territory of organizational texts such as records, written rules and instruction manuals (cf. Orr,
1996); and with regard to organizations and their resources in general as well; and it can be
considered as its members dancing in chains and possibly being harnessed by the
organizations. Daniel Hjorth (2005) even made a case for organizational entrepreneurship
referring to de Certeau and a project involving collaboration for workplace renewal between
the A/S LK company in Ringsted, Denmark, and the Danish Superflex art group.
The “Nietzsche/Elster case”: Inspiring creativity by self-imposing constraints
Nietzsche’s argument, contributing greatly to a deeper understanding of how creative
practices in and of organization can come about, partly anticipates and even goes well beyond
insights into the enabling and even stimulating aspects of constraints within recent research on
organizational creativity (cf. Honig et al., 2014; Rosso, 2014; Caniëls & Rietzschel, 2015;
Roskes, 2015). To demonstrate this, we will supplement Nietzsche’s fundamental idea, which
even goes beyond Karl Weick’s “reluctance to simplify” (Weick, Suttcliffe, & Obstfeld,
1999) principle, with a similar one analyzed by Elster under the heading “less is more”.
Although both ideas are similar and overlap, they are nevertheless distinguishable. Note that
they postulate the opposite of the frequently argued assumption “that creators need to feel
comfortable” (Rosso, 2014, pp. 554-555, is also critical to such a general view).
For Nietzsche, invention and creation mean finding or creating new ways of dancing in
old chains or, as we would translate: new ways to cope with old rules, routines and
resources and, in this way, forging new chains. Think of tango as once having been a new
way of dancing: new rules, new conventions, new steps, new postures, but of course invented
on the basis of old ways of dancing (Littig, 2013) and thereupon establishing new dance
conventions. Its novelty, including the quality of a new chain, comes out nicely by the remark
of an observer, Sacha Guitry, who saw it for the first time in Argentina and is said to have
commented on it: “It is fascinating, but why do people do it while standing?”
At the beginning we offered two important answers to the question as to why individuals
and organizations choose to restrict their own freedom: to cope with contingency and
complexity, and to restrict future wrong-doings to which they may be seduced. As Jon Elster
(2000, p. 1), thinking of individual actors such as alcoholics, put it: “they may want to protect
themselves against passion”. There are, however, still two other aspects to this thought,
incorporated in the two guidelines “making things difficult” and “sometimes less is more”.
Note that both guidelines recommend indirect, oblique ways of bringing about the new
exactly via a detour to difficulty and simplicity. For the latter, one may think of the
increasingly reduced paintings of the late Joan Miró such as “Blue II/III” (1961) just some
black spots and a red stripe on the blue ground. For organizations, think of the frugal design
of products, advertising or architecture, and of simplicity as a demand on product
development, which is partly a matter of efficiency, but partly a matter of aesthetics and
attractiveness as well. Insofar, it is about discipline within creative, innovative processes. For
the former, “making things difficult”, instead of lengthy explanations we give an example for
artistic self-binding. In poetry there is a sub-genre called anagram poems. The strict rule to
follow the self-binding – reads: In every line use exactly the same letters, using every letter
with the same frequency. Look at the first lines of this one from 1936. Its title and subject
refer to Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze’s painting with the same title. The author is David Shulman:
Washington Crossing the Delaware
A hard, howling, tossing, water scene:
Strong tide was washing hero clean.
“How cold!” Weather stings as in anger.
O silent night shows war ace danger!
It is not by chance that a book on anagram poems is titled “Making the Alphabet Dance”
(Eckler, 1997) and, for that matter, an important book on strategy and organization “When
Giants Learn to Dance” (Kanter, 1989). One will see the point: creativity is imagination in a
straightjacket, and the straightjacket may be self-made and self-imposed in order to stimulate
creativity. Elster’s second book on the subject is titled “Ulysses Unbound” (2000), and a
chapter of it is about “Creativity and Constraints in the Art” dealing with poetry, novels,
dancing, composition, and jazz. One may consider anagrams to be an exceptional case of
poems and self-binding, but should bear in mind that Shakespeare’s sonnets also follow strict
rules e.g., the rhyme pattern abab cdcd efef gg , that the verses of every conventional poem
end with a rhyme, and that even novels, stage plays and short stories are based on certain
rules, let alone the limerick (aa bb a) or the haiku.
For Elster (2000), the most important reason why people and, as we like to add,
organizations might want to restrict their freedom in general and when facing creativity
requirements in particular is the need to reduce the feasible set of options. This, in his view,
can provide for inspiration and focus on improvement (ibid., p. 209; see also Lampel et al.
2014, p. 474), and calm down the possibly paralyzing “fear of freedom” of having too many
options (Elster, 2000, p. 2). One might add: it prevents actors from feeling too comfortable
because of an abundance of resources (Csikszentmihalyi, 1997). Organizations parallel
literature insofar, and one may ask: could there be such thing as a “haiku organization” or
haiku ways of organizing practices in order to allow for and even provoke creativity? An
organization that “makes things difficult” by opting for parsimony, simplicity and brevity of
its rules and regulations as opposed to “mammoth bureaucracies”? We will come back to this
issue in the next section.
“Dancing”, then, may have a double or even triple meaning. It may refer either to
dancing – “with ease and facility” within the boundaries imposed by the rules. This
conception is not only reflected well in “replication as strategy” (Winter & Szulanski, 2001),
“routinization of creativity” (Cohendet, Llerena, & Simon, 2014) or “routinized business
innovation” (Wilf, 2015b). It is also particularly evident in the production and reproduction of
“familiar novelty” (Sonenshein, 2016) to be achieved, for instance, by a boutique chain that
successfully avoids the standardized offerings of retail chains but also the often inefficient
idiosyncrasies of boutiques.
Or “dancing” may refer to the possibility and necessity to apply the rules in a new and
possibly surprising way. In “application” “pli” is included, the root of which relates to “fold”
(about the fold see below). The German word for application, “anwenden”, includes
“wenden”, which means to turn like a dancer. This thought has prompted routine
researchers not only to focus on their performative (in addition to their ostensive) aspect, but
also to diagnose organizational routines as sources of change (Feldman, 2000; Feldman &
Pentland, 2003; Sonenshein’s “familiar novelty” may also be pertinent here).
Strong examples of what “dancing in old chains” means are practices such as bricolage
(Baker & Nelson, 2005), bootstrapping (Kannan-Narasimhan, 2014), borrowing, scavenging,
amplifying, bootlegging and finagling (ibid.), all of them dealing with constraints in creative
ways, circumventing rules, making surprising use of resources and the like. They are cases of
“silent production” in the sense of de Certeau.
A third possibility is what is nowadays called “disruptive innovation” a more
revolutionary kind of conception, breaking and/or creating new rules in a way that shatters
established practices. Thomas Kuhn’s (1962) “normal versus revolutionary science” comes to
mind and may give an idea of how to distinguish these types of creativity. In the field of
strategy and organization, disruptive innovations either create a new market or organizational
form, or disrupt the status quo in existing systems. Incumbents are typically considered to be
incapable of innovating in this manner; for that very reason, they are likely to be those who
are most negatively affected (Christensen, 1997).
Dancing is about taking steps, turning around, moving (parts of) the body, improvising
and relating to others following conventions and rhythm but (hopefully) with ease and
facility, and this is why Nietzsche suggests using it as a metaphor. Because of this adjacency
to organizing, artistic dance has already been investigated by organization scholars in order,
for instance, to understand the interplay of externally given and self-imposed internal
constraints such as limited budgets and striving for authentic expression respectively and, in
face of the catalytic individual and institutional support structure, to comprehend its effect on
the creative process (Sagiv, 2014; Sgourev, 2015; Montanari, Scapolan, & Gianecchin, 2016).
Black dances: From constraints to creativity (and new freedom?)
While Nietzsche took “dancing” as a metaphor (for playfully and creatively dealing with rules
and conventions, possibly creating new ways to dance) we will take it literally now, drawing
attention to a historical example of how old ways and conventions of dancing served as an
abutment to create new and, in this case, polemical ways of doing so.
(1) Black dances. As Astrid Kusser (2010, 2013) has convincingly shown, black
dances became popular in Europe and the United States not because they were exotic or
different, but because they enabled a polemical attitude towards (self-)exploitation under
modern regimes of mass labor” (Kusser, 2013, p. 41). The old gave Afro-Americans grounds
and impetus to create something new. It would be short-sighted, however, to consider “the
old” just as the traditional ways to dance. As Kusser makes clear, what was at stake in the
dancing halls from around 1900 up to the roaring twenties was the relationship of dancing and
working in times of Fordism and, moreover, of the implied subjugation of the Afro-
Americans she dealt with going back to the days of slavery.7 With Fordism in mind, Kusser
(2013, p. 41; our transl.) summarized: “While the capacity of bodies to communicate and
cooperate freely was increasingly supervised and instrumentalized on the shopfloor by
disciplinary arrangements and racist discourses, people appropriated it on the dancefloor in
radically experimental and non-instrumentalistic ways.8
Even these slaves were not mere victims, but in many ways resisted, demonstrating
“dialectic of control” (Giddens, 1984). One way was imitating and ridiculing their masters’
dances. These “black dances” lie somewhere between the Elster/Nietzsche case (“making
things difficult”) and “scarcity as the mother of invention”. Of course, the slaves’ chains were
not self-imposed. Self-imposed, however, and a way of voluntarily making things difficult,
was the fact that and how the African-Americans made use of the “white” dance conventions
at the beginning of the last century. What they developed was exactly what Nietzsche had
called “making things difficult”. The oppression on the slave ships and in plantations, as
7 Already on the slave ships, dancing was a way for the slaves to defend themselves against unrestricted
exploitation of their bodies and, as one has to add, a means for the ship captains to loosen disciplinary power
and reduce violence, and to secure at least minimal health and survival conditions for the slaves (Rediker, 2007).
8 Kusser here refers to Foucault’s (1977) concept of heterotopia, emphasizing the bodies’ ability to move in ways
that transgress the economic rationality of an existing societal coherence. For the reference to Kusser’s study
(and to that of Abul-Lughod, see below, fn. 12) and for much advice, we thank Iris Därmann (See her
forthcoming book on “Dienen”) (“serving”), ranging from slavery to the modern service society). Foucauldian
heterotopia is one of the central concepts of Hjorth’s (2005) study mentioned at the end of Section 2.2.
extensive as it has been, did not infringe on the way African-Americans made use of ”white”
dancing conventions around 1900 when celebrating and attending dance competitions. There,
they voluntarily chose the “white” conventions as restrictions and literally danced within
these chains. It was in this way that they created something new. “The aesthetics resulting was
neither African nor European but polemic: the hands slackly hanging down and falling off,
the partial stiffening of bodies leaned backward” (Kusser, 2013, p. 46; our transl.; italics
added), the ironic combination of elegant strutting and improvised, virtuous breaks, surprising
turns, funny posing, pelvis in motion, knees flapping (ibid., p. 47; 2010, pp. 88-89). This may
count as the birth of the new out of the spirit of resistance against the old.
Even if resistance of that nature is condemned to transience or threatened to be absorbed,
what it generates is more than nothing. We are reminded by Bertolt Brecht’s warning in a
small piece called “The dangers of the idea of the flow of things” in Me-ti (2016, p. 57): “The
proponents of development often have too low an opinion of what currently exists. The
thought that it will disappear makes it unimportant to them. They consider all periods as
phases and imagine they last for a shorter time. Because they see them in movement, they
forget that they exist.” Becoming and passing away does not annihilate being. The latter has
to be acknowledged in its own right, and not devaluated because it is to pass. Moreover,
creation lives on stabilization (Farjoun, 2010; Fortwengel, Schüßler, & Sydow, 2017). Process
thinking is seminal for organization studies all the more if it avoids throwing out the (in
some sense stable) baby with the (fluid) bathwater.9
What Astrid Kusser asks us to consider is: there is no razor-sharp dividing line between
the old and the new, convention and its negation, affirmation and resistance. Rather, as we
would like to put it, the two are divided in the form of a fold (Deleuze, 1993; Derrida, 1981;
Weiskopf, 2002).10 This means, among others, there will be no pure convention and no pure
negation but always reciprocal contamination and, therefore, a trace of the one within the
other. It is not only that Afro-Americans’ resistance via dancing, when considered as a stage
of becoming or development, does not delete the being or original existence of a dance. In
addition, the old being or existence does not vanish without a trace neither in dancing nor in
working, nor in any other pertinent social practice. Similarly, the resistance against certain,
e.g. Tayloristic/Fordistic, forms of division and organization of labor does not vanish without
9 Schoeneborn, Vasquez and Cornelissen (2016, p. 935), in a sophisticated contribution to the „process-entity
paradox“, concluded that the „organization as becoming“ approach „tends to overspecialize theory building“ by
ignoring we would prefer: downplaying the entity. For another warning not to overemphasize fluidity in
organizational matters see Schreyögg & Sydow (2010).
10 To our knowledge, Richard Weiskopf (2002) was the first to unfold the „aesthetics of folding“, with reference
to organizations in a splendid piece on the iron cage.
a trace in new forms, such as lean production. There is no creatio ex nihilo, but nor is there a
creatio ad nihilum.
(2) Yields for organization studies. What does all this yield with respect to organizing
creative practices and creativity?
First,as is well known not least from the world of music (from blues and jazz up to rock,
punk and hip-hop and, at that, to breakdance), resistance is a potential source of creation and
creativity (see also the distinction of avant-garde rebellion and revolution in Elster, 2000, p.
223). While it seems to be a paradoxical undertaking to integrate de Certeau’s silent and
Kusser’s heterotopic production into organizations, there is considerable creative potential
hidden there. What Hjorth (2016) calls “creative resistance” and “newness emerging from
below”, both to be handled (coopted) by the management, is the issue here (see also
Courpasson, Dany, & Clegg, 2012, about “productive resistance in the workplace”). Everyday
resistance takes on a great variety of often inconspicuous but potentially creative forms. These
range from remaining silent or reserved and getting out of the way or out of trouble, to
making derisive remarks, resorting to ironic, joking mockery or by means of gossip, as
already noted by Gouldner (1954) and later Lopez (2007), about bureaucracy in general and
routinization in particular, until both workers and managers informally agreed to ignore the
formal rules. Other examples range from playing games such as Michael Burawoy’s (1979)
“making out” on the shop floor and tacitly deviating from the rules up to explicitly taking the
option ‘voice or even ‘exit’ in the sense of Hirschman (1970). To organize for creativity
insofar means to integrate at least some of these practices, without completely subjugating
them to formal rules. This is difficult but not impossible, as Hirschman’s praise of raising the
voice within organizations indicates. Another example can be found in communities of
practice the mavericks of organizations (Brown & Duguid, 1991, p. 50) which adhere to
“non-canonical practices” (ibid., p. 51). The crucial point in all the given examples is that
there is no sharp line between resisting and conforming. By playing games the workers on the
shop floor intended to put up resistance to the formal shop floor rules, but by doing just that,
according to Burawoy (1979), they consented to the rules of capitalistic production:
“Manufacturing Consent”, as the title of the book suggests. Brown’s and Duguid’s
communities of practice made a stand against the manual instructions à la Orr (1996), for
example, and thus contributed in a creative way to the adequacy of organizational practices.
All the individual actors were dancing in chains in constraints that were self-imposed, that is
imposed upon them by their respective organizations which, (as mentioned earlier, hence bind
themselves by imposing constraints on their members).
Second, thinking about routine or conventions and creation in terms of a fold opens up
the view on the flowing, Brecht’s flow of things, the state of becoming, without denying the
being: without denying that there are at times, possibly for a long time, stable entities on each
side of the fold either routine as in bureaucracies or improvisation as in jazz, either the
proven old or the risky new.
Third, pertinent practices are embedded in subtle historical, contextual and situational
conditions and relations to other practices a connectedness and entanglement that has to be
acknowledged as, e.g., in routine clusters (Kremser & Schreyögg, 2016). As Hernes (2014, p.
267), referring to Whitehead (1929) put it, “facts are residues of experiential events” and “no
event can merely be itself, but creates itself relationally with other events, including past,
simultaneous, and future events” (italics added; note that ”create” has a by far more
encompassing meaning in Whitehead’s works than within our creativity discourse).11
Organizing for creativity has to be about the connectedness and entanglement of things and
events in our terms: of practices (Fortwengel et al., 2017). The implication is that there are,
and in some sense have to be, indirect, oblique and crooked ways of bringing about creative
Fourth, dancing, taken literally or metaphorically, often requires, as one reviewer
mentioned, “moves that are interwoven between partners as well as keeping them in concert”.
This observation points to the interactional dimension of creation and creativity. This is not
what Nietzsche had an eye on but is of particular importance for organizations which are
dependent on keeping their members “in concert”. In 2.3, we mentioned tango, and it is not by
chance that this is one of the examples of collective intentions: It takes two not only to tango
but even for there to be a shared intention into to tango” (Bratman, 1999: 116-117). The
reviewer, however, referred to Lyotard’s (1984) analysis of moves and countermoves in
games, not least in language games, and to Munro’s (1993) study of how control technologies,
such as accounting, are made use of by members of organizations who, when interacting,
make strategic, unexpected, creative moves. He thus emphasized the oppositional role of
11 In a similar vein, Lila Abul-Lughod (1990), in a beautiful, critical piece about „the romance of resistance“ of
Bedouin women in Egypt and its creative transformations in the 1980s, stressed (1) the importance of history and
(2) the necessity to pay attention to and acknowledge the rich and „unlikely forms of resistance, subversions
rather than large-scale collective insurrections, small or local resistances not tied to the overthrow of systems or
even to ideologies of emancipation“ (ibid., p. 41) but responding to and resisting their situations and being
connected with each other and with complementary power strategies of the male and old members of the family
or community. The subversive creations of these women include jokes, songs, folktales, irreverent discourse, and
even oral lyric poetry, each being a poiesis in the sense of de Certeau. As Abu-Lughod (ibid., p. 47) emphasizes,
it would be a serious error to devaluate their practices as prepolitical, a false consciousness or as safety valves.
Her critique is similar to that of Brecht regarding the suppression of the being.
dancing partners and its possibly creativity-enforcing effects. These are brought about by
dancers restricting, forcing and stimulating each other.
New Chains, Intended
The new chains forged by creative practices will be intended or unintended, welcome or
unwelcome constraints. Creation as creativity is unavoidably ambivalent. What is novel
and useful for whom and with respect to what is debatable. Today, even the dark sides of
creativity are recognized, for instance, as “creative crime” (Cropley & Cropley, 2013). What
is more relevant here: the pertinent typology of old constraints we suggested above, made up
of the oppositions “intended versus unintended leeway”, “forcing versus inspiring” and
“intended to promote efficiency versus intended to promote creativity in the first place”
applies to the new constraints as well, because the new chains become the old in the next
round of practice. It goes without saying that unintended consequences, external effects, new
structures implying organizational inertia and even path dependencies resulting from creation
and innovation are important issues. One is inclined to quote Goethe (Faust I, verse 1410) in
this context: “The first we are given free, we’re governed by the second.” A more literal
translation would read: “… within the second we are slaves” in new chains, that is. Here,
however, we will only focus on self-imposed constraints à la Nietzsche and Elster, intended to
promote future creativity.
We now turn to haiku as a paradigmatic example. Above, we referred to “dancing”, at
first metaphorically, then literally. This is what we will do with haiku as well.
(1) Haiku as a metaphor. As a metaphor translated into western thinking and transferred
to organizational self-binding to provoke and encourage creativity, one may say that Japanese
haiku is all about brevity Elster’s “less is more” , perfection, simplicity and depth at the
same time. Moreover, it includes improvisation and a kind of “impressionism”. As a rule it
would read: “Put what you see or feel into few words, bound to tradition and poetical rules, in
order to create a new view on everyday things, situations and events.” Constraining language
in this way, however, is what Nietzsche called “making things difficult” as well. According to
him “the new constraint the artist has imposed upon himself” should evoke “the illusion of
ease and facility”. Of course, in our context we do not talk about artists and poetical rules, nor
are we speaking about poems. The justification for our, in some sense, crude maneuver of
extracting a distinctly western sense out of haiku is that it is the way metaphors work:
transferring some concepts, terms or aspects from one subject (the “source”) to a quite
different one (the “target”) in a different context. With a grain of truth this creative transfer
applies to the design of products as well Braun razors, Bang & Olufsen audio systems,
Bauhaus architecture, to name just a few. Organizing à la haiku, however, had to be about
simple (clusters of) procedures in order to foster creativity. It goes without saying that this
cannot be taken as a general meta-rule for organizations, not even for the instantiation of
“minimal structures” (Kamoche & Pina e Cunha, 2001). In view of the increasing, partly self-
reinforcing complication of bureaucratic rule systems and even of “mammoth bureaucracies”
(Lampel et al. 2014, p. 475) that hinder creativity, however, it can be regarded as at least one
dimension of desirable organizational alignment an antivenom. Examples of ways of
stimulating internal communication are the Metaplan communication tools (just brown paper
and about 10x20 cm cards on which to write ideas, comments, criticisms, questions and
answers), the Visual Explorer, developed by Palus and Horth (2002, pp. 143-149) in order to
promote imagination and communication on the basis of just one single color image (to be
selected out of about 200) and serving as a kind of visual metaphor, and some Scrum (project
management) tools, e.g. the institution of short daily scrums (a planning and tracking tool for
agile product development projects) of just 15 minutes. These three kinds of artifacts provide
for brevity and producing a rich variety of ideas and hints and, in this way, for generating
organizational creativity.
(2) Haiku, taken literally. This is what authors such as Palus and Horth (2002) and Louise
Grisoni (e.g. 2009) recommend. The former put haiku into the broader framework of creative
leadership, imaging competency in the face of complexity and of poetry as being “a profound
matter briefly stated” (Palus & Horth, 2002, p. 95). They report on managers of the Johns
River Station, a coal-fired power plant, using haiku in order to quickly “capture the essence
when ‘there’s been some weird thing (such as unplanned outages; our add.) happening’ and to
pass on this essence to the next shift” (ibid., p. 97). Grisoni (2009, p. 98) recommends the use
of poetry in general and haiku in particular “to provide a bridge between tangible, rational and
explicit knowledge and tacit or implicit knowledge, providing opportunities to access new
organizational knowledge, understandings and learning” in an, as we like to add, oblique way.
It goes without saying that, as already mentioned, the spirit of haiku is anything but a
panacea of how to organize for creative practices. Of course, it concerns just one, specific
dimension of creation and creativity. It is a pharmakon in the sense of Derrida (1981)
medicine or poison. Moderately measured, however, and applied with a sense of
appropriateness, it includes creative potential, not least by combining playfulness and
sobriety, which are both needed here, crossing over the fold that separates and connects
freedom and constraint.
(3) Intended passivity. Contingency can be considered as a form of freedom or as a threat,
the latter because it creates an ever laboring mountain of possibilities that can paralyze actors
Elster’s “fear of freedom”. The resulting passivity, however, is not necessarily a bad thing.
Freedom implies that an actor is free to do something but to refrain from doing it or
something else as well. Being able to refrain from doing something is, as Giorgio Agamben
has often emphasized (e.g. 1998, pp. 44-48), the other side of potency: the ability to “let it
be”. In the face of this ambivalence, unintended consequences and the external effects of
creations, to ‘let it be’ could often be a reasonable option. This again raises the question of
intendedness. The power exerted by organizations, from this point of view, may be the power
to deprive their members of their ability to let something be in our context: to refrain from
certain new practices or from creating something new. One may think of the vast amount of
new electronic devices and gimmicks in our cars, or of the second, third, fourth and fifth blade
in razors, the development and manufacturing of which involve highly complex precision
work and nanotechnology. This would call for a more let-it-be-inclined type or form of
organization(s) for intentionally letting things be and refraining from some (forms of)
creation, which can be considered as being in the spirit of Nietzsche and Elster as well.12
While in many cases to let it be will not be an option because of market or institutional
constraints, in other cases it might work very well. This goes not least for organizational
creations such as more and more sophisticated gratification systems and rituals of verification
in the sense of Michael Power (1997). The better option may well be to refrain from these
creations and pertinent practices and to rely instead on trust, loyalty and intrinsic motivation
(Osterloh & Frey, 2000).
Conclusions, Limitations, and Next Dance Steps
Regarding favorable conditions of creativity in and of organizations, the accent is mostly put
on “making things easier” on freedom, leeway and the like. Friedrich Nietzsche, on the
contrary, dealing with arts, put the accent on a self-imposed “making things difficult”. We
have presented Elster’s more aesthetic guideline, “less is more”, as a special case of making
things difficult, and explored what both might mean with regard to organizations. We also
added Feldman’s improvisational routines and de Certeau’s silent production as ways of
dancing in chains not intended to promote creativity. Under the heading “dancing in chains”
we looked at the sequence “(unintended) old chains dancing (intended) new chains”,
12 Cf. Jullien ( 2004,) and Chia & Holt (2007, pp. 63-64) about „letting go“, „doing nothing“, „letting things
happen“ and void in Taoism and Confucianism.
concentrating on “dancing” and applying distinctions or oppositions such as “efficiency-
oriented versus creativity-oriented constraints”, intended versus unintended leeway” and
“forcing versus inspiring creativity”. We ended up at these features of the respective
- ad old chains: the dependence of every creation on old chains, restricting and enabling as
nicely captured in Waldenfels’ word “Widerlager” (abutment);
- ad dancing: the stimulating, inspiring, challenging power of self-imposing constraints for
individual and corporate actors and the significance of non-canonical creative processes
and practices such as Nietzsche’s dancing, de Certeau’s poaching, Feldman’s
improvisational routines, Kusser’s and Hjorth’s heterotopic production, Burawoy’s games,
the productive and even creative resistance à la Hjorth and Courpasson et al., and not least
Chia’s and Holt’s practices of peripheral awareness;
- ad new chains: the insight that there is no creatio ad nihilumthat creation always means
to create new chains which will restrict future action and in which it will be required to
dance, and embraces the even more difficult question of how to organize for refraining
from certain creations and for “letting go”, which is all the more important in the face of
unintended und unwelcome new chains forged by creative practices.
The sequence “old chains – dancing – new chainsdraws attention to time and the temporality
of creative and innovative practices (Garud, Gehman, & Kumaraswamy, 2011) and, in
particular, to the micro-analysis of “dancing”. The concept of (intended) self-binding also is
of temporal significance because self-binding is about restricting the individual and/or
corporate actors’ future action and this way impacting creativity in the face of necessary
gaps within every intention and plan of action.
Particularly important to us is that there is not a sharp line, but rather a fold, separating
freedom and constraint, resistance/subversion and conformity and, at that, complementarity,
supplementarity and recursiveness between these oppositions. One conclusion to be drawn
from these complications is: it is by far too simple to make creativity coincide with freedom
and non-bureaucratic organizations. We, to some degree on the contrary, put the accent
instead on the creativity-provoking, generative potential of constraints.
While the creativity-enabling aspects of constraints have recently become more readily
acknowledged and studied by organization researchers (e.g. Hoegl et al., 2008; Gibbert &
Scranton, 2009; Honig et al., 2014; Lampel et al., 2014; Caniëls & Rietzschel, 2015),
Nietzsche’s “making things difficult” and Elster’s “less is more” are not referred to. In the
light of these inferences from their reflection upon stimulating effects of self-imposed
constraints, organization studies on creativity appear to be in need of a constraint theory that
enables us to answer Jon Elster’s (2000, p. 1) question as to “why individuals (and, as we
suggest should be added, organizations) may want to restrict their freedom of choice and how
they achieve this end.”
Helpful in this context are distinctions between different kinds of constraints with which
we have not been able to deal here, such as product and process constraints (Rosso, 2014)13,
structural, resource and temporal constraints (Lampel et al., 2014), domain-specific goal and
task constraints (Stokes, 2006), and limiting and channeling constraints (Roskes, 2015).
Onarheim and Biskjaer (forthcoming) propose to conceptualize constraints (or being
constrained) with respect to (degree of) articulation, abstraction, complexity, flexibility,
importance, origin, and timing. Elster (2000, pp. 176, 200-201, 209-212) drew attention to the
distinction between choice of and within constraints, which is of particular interest for
organizations because, to some degree, they are in a position to decide upon the “of”-choice
upon process constraints, that is. This again raises the decisive question as to why and when
constraints in general and “making things difficult” in particular will stimulate and not kill
creativity in and of organizations. Above, we considered these provisional answers (which
overlap to some degree), in particular: because necessity is the mother of invention and
because constraints call for ways to act which are unproven so far and can provoke creative
forms of resistance, of silent and heterotopic production and a multitude of circumventing,
deviating practices such as bricolage, bootstrapping, scavenging, bootlegging, finagling and
others (Kannan-Narasimhan, 2014) or even different constraint-shattering practices
(Lombardo & Kvålshaugen, 2014).
We do not know much, however, about the conditions under which necessity is the
mother of invention (and not its killer); when “making things easier” is more pertinent than
“making things difficult”; under exactly which conditions creative deviation or resistance will
develop (and how it can be integrated in organizations); and, above all, about when
difficulties will promote and when they will hinder creativity. One answer to the latter
question is given by Elster (2000, pp. 1-7, 209-221): the stimulating, inspiring effect of self-
imposed constraints is an inversed U-shaped function of their tightness: “having too many
options works against creativity” (Elster 2000, p. 209). Quite similar suggestions and findings
within management and organization studies are offered by Geiger and Cashen (2002) with
reference to organizational slack of either an internal (available or recoverable) or external
13 Note that Nietzsche’s „making things difficult“ and Elster’s „less is more“ may refer to process as well as to
product constraints, and that there is a recursive relation: demanding processes will usually result in demanding
products and vice versa.
(potential) nature, and by Rosso (2014, pointing at further literature) referring to time and
financial constraints. To be sure, the tightness of constraints is an important variable here.
Taken in isolation, however, it would add up to an all too simple message: tight enough, but
not too tight; difficult enough, but not too difficult. This misses what the inspiring quality of
constraints might be, so we suggest taking it just as an example for the kind of answers we are
in need of. Rosso (2014) in his instructive study considered whether product constraints tend
to stimulate creativity, while process constraints tend to kill it. He remained cautious, though,
and in the end stuck to the different distinction not of constraints but of enabling and disabling
group dynamics, which is undoubtedly an important variable, too.
Dancing is about taking steps. Note that, as already Schelling (1809, p. 256) knew, going
is averted falling. Ortmann and Salzman (2002) characterized big corporations in search of
strategy as „stumbling giants“, an allusion to Kanter’s (1989) „When giants learn to dance“.
Dancing requires one, among other things, to focus on one’s own and one’s partners steps
and to show peripheral awareness of the other dancers. This may otherwise make the other
dancer stumble. With this caveat in mind, we suggest that more attention should be paid than
before to the numerous and diverse inconspicuous ways of bringing about the new: silent,
heterotopic, indirect, oblique, entangled, winding, crooked, serendipitous, polemic or even
subversive ways which should be traversed with peripheral awareness. This may take place in
the form of dancing, balancing, crossing, transgressing and, unavoidably, sometimes even
We are extremely grateful to the four reviewers and Mike Zundel, the OS Senior Editor in
charge of our paper, for invaluable comments on former versions of this article. An early
version was presented at WK ORG 2015 in Zürich, Switzerland, a later version at Forum für
interdisziplinäre Forschung (FiF) of TU Darmstadt, Germany. Jörg Sydow thanks the German
Research Foundation (DFG) for financially supporting FOR 2161 Organized Creativity.
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Author Biographies
Günther Ortmann was Professor of Business Administration at Helmut-Schmidt-Universität
Hamburg, Germany, and is now a Research Professor of Leadership at Universität Wit-
ten/Herdecke, Germany. His research areas are organization theory, in particular
"organization and deconstruction" and "rules and rule following", strategic management,
decision theory, and management in hypermodern times. He is co-editor of a forthcoming
themed section of Organization Studies about "The Novel and Organization Studies".
Jörg Sydow is Professor of Management at the School of Business & Economics at Freie
Universität Berlin, Germany, and a Visiting Professor at Strathclyde Business School,
Glasgow. Moreover, he is the director of the Research Unit “Organized Creativity”, sponsored
by the German Research Foundation (DFG), and co-authored two recently published books:
Lundin, R., Arvidsson, N., Brady, T., Eksted, E., Midler, C., & Sydow, J. (2015): Managing
and Working in Project Society Institutional Challenges of Temporary Organizations. Cam-
bridge: Cambridge University Press, and Sydow, J., Schüßler, E., & Müller-Seitz, G. (2016):
Managing Inter-organizational Relations Debates and Cases. London: Palgrave-Macmillan.
... Our qualitative data indicates that organisational members propose more process innovations during general meetings when they are held digitally as opposed to face-to-face; a finding which is largely confirmed by our organisation-wide survey with N = 537 participants (exploratory integration). Subsequent qualitative examination helps elucidate the quantitative results (explanatory integration) by revealing how the constraints imposed by virtual meetings, such as sequential speaking, act as enabling limits (Ortmann & Sydow, 2018) for generating innovative ideas. We discuss these constraints as technological affordances (Volkoff & Strong, 2017) that enable organisational members to take charge, present process innovations, and develop new working methods, which was of vital importance during the pandemic. ...
... We theorise that the mechanisms for creative collaboration behind the shared affordances in virtual meetings are process constraints (Acar et al., 2019), which turn out to be enabling limits for creative collaboration (Ortmann & Sydow, 2018). These enabling limits have a similar effect as facilitator rules in brainstorming. ...
Although meetings are an omnipresent organisational practice for interactive idea generation, we know little about how the switch to digital forms affects innovation-oriented behaviours in meetings. This mixed-methods study explores the role of digital meetings in the generation of process innovations in the Ministry of the Interior of the city-state Hamburg in Germany during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Based on observations, informal interviews, documents, group discussions, and an online survey, we combine qualitative and quantitative methods to develop, test, and elaborate on a conceptual model. The model describes how and why the digital meeting format relates to meeting performance and facilitates process innovations in organisations. Our findings show that digital meetings are perceived as equally burdensome, but more effective than face-to-face meetings. We theorise that technical restrictions of digital meetings, such as sequential speaking, provide enabling limits for employees to take charge and improve processes at work. The technical features of digital meetings, such as multi-channel communication and easy access, also allow more employees to take charge and improve organisational processes. We conclude that digital meetings (unintentionally) bring about brainstorming facilitator rules, spur organisational creativity, and therefore turn out to be an (underestimated) practice for stimulating process innovations.
... In der Organisationssoziologie wird Kreativität -wenig überraschend -als organisierter Sachverhalt begriffen (Fortwengel et al. 2016;Ortmann, Sydow 2018;Slavich, Svejenova 2016). Zudem wird sie oftmals als notwenige Voraussetzung für anschließende Innovationen ausgewiesen (Shalley, Gilson 2017). ...
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Der vorliegende Beitrag richtet den Blick auf die Mode als ein Bereich, in dem Neues nicht nur erwartet und mit hoher Verlässlichkeit hervorgebracht wird, sondern in dem darüber hinaus auch rigide, zeitliche Vorgaben einzuhalten sind. Gezeigt wird, dass spezifische Merkmale der Organisation und Sprachverwendung es ermöglichen, auf radikale Brüche zu verzichten und Fehlschläge zu vermeiden und rigide zeitliche Vorgaben einzuhalten und dennoch kreativ zu erscheinen. Der Beitrag zeigt folglich, wie Kreativität in der Mode planbar wird und als Termingeschäft organisiert werden kann.
... We show that whether an idea is taken up and pursued depends critically on direct behavioral responses such as respectful attention to others. Third, our study sheds light on the agile approach that is gaining increasing popularity in management and organization practice (ortmann & sydow, 2018;Petermann & zacher, 2020;van oorschot, sengupta, & Wassenhove, 2018) by tracing the dynamic and interactive nature of workplace meetings toward innovation and novel idea creation. in contrast to regular meetings with characteristics such as a shared history, shared office spaces, frequent interactions, we investigate communicative events in agile meetings that are associated with interactive conventions of conducting talk. ...
... In cosmetic surgery, the provider brings both aesthetic and technical competence, which interact in important ways. This aesthetic work is a form of constrained creativity in which the provider works to create beauty within the limitations of the women's bodies and 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 F o r P e e r R e v i e w 32 the constraints of their desired aesthetic tastes (Ortmann and Sydow 2018). Likely, constrained creativity is common across many aesthetic services, such as when consumers request a trendy hairstyle that does not work with the color and texture of their hair or when consumers ask tailors to work with fabrics that do not flex to meet the needs of the specific application. ...
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Prior research stresses the importance of consumer participation in service coproduction. We examine the coproduction of aesthetic services, which are services in which beauty is a critical outcome. Consumers face challenges communicating their aesthetic tastes because of technical constraints that are understood by service providers but that consumers do not fully understand. To fill this gap, consumers do aesthetic work in communities of practice. Service providers also face challenges, as they must coproduce with consumers whose aesthetic tastes are formed amid shifting social standards. In this qualitative study, we highlight aesthetic work as a different type of consumer work that involves developing cultural competence. We identify four types of aesthetic coproduction in which cultural competence is distributed differently within the service dyad: aesthetic codesigning, aesthetic consenting, aesthetic yielding, and aesthetic reigning. We explore the managerial implications that arise as consumers increasingly use online social resources that shape and increase aesthetic expectations. We examine the unintended consequences of aesthetic service coproduction in which providers’ technical and aesthetic expertise is difficult for consumers to understand often leading to disappointing outcomes.
... gesprochen. Folgt man allerdings der jüngeren Forschung zum Erfindungsreichtum von Organisationen (organizational ingenuity), dann wird deutlich, dass auch restriktive Bedingungen organisationale Kreativität fördern können(Lampel et al. 2014;Ortmann und Sydow 2018); dabei kann es sich sowohl um von Extern vorgegebene als auch um selbstgesetzte Restriktionen handeln. Schon viel früher wies PatriciaStokes (2005) auf die auch aus individueller Sicht vorhandene Möglichkeit von "creativity from constraints" hin.Die neuere Kreativitätsforschung hat zudem damit begonnen, den ambivalenten Charakter von Unsicherheit, auch fundamentaler Unsicherheit im Sinne eines John MaynardKeynes (1936), zu betonen. ...
In diesem Beitrag diskutieren wir, nach kurzer Klärung des Verhältnisses von Kreativität und Innovation, welche Rolle das Thema bislang in der wissenschaftlichen Entrepreneurship-Literatur spielt, und wie vor allem eine explizite Kreativitätsforschung in diesem Bereich in Zukunft ausgebaut werden könnte. Dazu analysieren wir zunächst die bislang noch eher überschaubare explizite Kreativitätsforschung im Entrepreneurship-Feld, die das Individuum, das Team oder das soziale Netzwerk von Gründerinnen fokussiert. Sodann diskutieren wir, inwieweit das Thema der Kreativität in dieser Forschung ein zumindest implizites Thema darstellt. Darauf aufbauend identifizieren wir Potenziale für die Kreativitätsforschung im Entrepreneurship-Feld.
... So lag beispielsweise Thomas Edisons Kreativität weniger bei der Erfindung der elektrischen Glühbirne selbst, sondern bei der Entwicklung geeigneter Kommerzialisierungsstrategien, um eine breite Akzeptanz für die bereits bekannte Technologie zu schaffen (Hargadon und Douglas 2001). Darüber hinaus werden kreative Praktiken zunehmend auch auf organisationaler Ebene verortet (Ortmann und Sydow 2018;Slavich und Svejenova 2016). Dieser Sichtweise schließen wir uns an, sprechen im Folgenden aber vor allem dann von Kreativität, wenn die für Innovationsdynamiken in Organisationen relevanten Studien selbst diesen Begriff verwenden. ...
Die Beziehung zwischen Innovation und Organisation ist widersprüchlich: Organisation beschränkt Innovation und ermöglicht sie gleichzeitig dadurch. In diesem Beitrag rezipieren wir aktuelle prozessorientierte Ansätze in der Organisationsforschung, die diese Beziehung auf unterschiedliche Arten und Weisen adressieren. Dabei argumentieren wir, dass Innovation weder allein von besonders kreativen Individuen noch von bestimmten Organisationsstrukturen abhängt, sondern von situativen, kollektiven Praktiken, welche durch Organisation unterstützt werden können.
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In order for management education to move beyond the analytical thinking of the last century to promote creative thinking more appropriate for today’s organizations we need to build new courses that allow for organic flexible approaches to building diverse types of knowledge. We need to nurture student curiosity and encourage them to delve deeply into unknown fields. By approaching problems with curious humility they can begin to understand the nuances of tensions and trade-offs that exist at the heart of complex issues. We also need to unleash student creativity and support intelligent generative failure in order to learn. They need to learn the skills of experimentation in order to test ideas in uncertain contexts. We also need to promote clarity of purpose and communication that will enable innovation to be implemented and have positive impact in the world. In this chapter a new process model covering each of these aspects is described along with an illustrative example of how this has been applied in a redesigned MBA course over the last 5 years.
Organizational improvisation is a key skill for managers, but we lack knowledge on how to educate them on improvisational skills and what the role of the body is in this process. We assume that embodiment matters because improvisation relies on the visceral and instinctive reactions of the body when faced with urgent situations. This study explores how theatrical improvisation embodies organizational improvisation education. The empirical research results from three years of teaching organizational improvisation based on theatrical improvisation in a management school. The narrative analysis of empirical materials (documents, observational diaries, artistic expressions, interviews) presents organizational improvisation education and its embodiment as involving three types of learning practices: relationality (with oneself, with others, with rules, with the whole and with creativity), emotionality (joy, surprise and anxiety) and spontaneity (relaxation and intuition). We contribute to understanding how teaching and learning organizational improvisation involves theatrical and embodiment training.
This paper uses the metaphor of the dance to envision how hospitals in the Netherlands engaged in organizing and delivering care during the first months of the COVID-19 outbreak. Drawing on an ongoing ethnographic study in a Dutch university study and interviews with nurses in various hospitals, we show how hospital actors (nurses, physicians, managers, directors, patients) engaged in different dances following the changing rhythms of the virus outbreak and related policy measures, as well as mutual interactions driven by ‘old’ and ‘new’ private and collective interests. We discern three dance patterns in the unfolding crisis—learning to dance; the dance marathon; dancing to a cacophony—each requiring a new choreography of organizing and caring, rearranging personnel, spaces, and materials to adapt to (the consequences of) the virus outbreak. We argue that dance is a powerful metaphor to provide an affective narrative of how hospitals operate at different levels and in various ways to accommodate a new group of patients while flexibly finding alternative ways of organizing and caring in a highly political and uncertain context.
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This paper contributes to process studies on organizational creativity by developing two competing research agendas. The first perspective, the ‘becoming’ view, depicts creativity as a constant flow of activity that crystalizes every once in a while in unpredictable moments of creativity. The second perspective, the ‘practice’ view, understands creativity as a practiced social process, in which structures play the important role of both enabling and constraining individual agents in pursuing creativity as a collective phenomenon. We compare and contrast these two theoretical perspectives, which are based on different process ontologies, and discuss their methodological implications. We argue that the practice perspective offers particular promise, because it allows us to address the important yet paradoxical question of how creativity may be organized and managed.
In his forward to The Postmodern Condition, Fredric Jameson distinguishes Lyotard's theories from Habermas. Using Habarmas' idea of the legitimation crisis as a starting point, Jameson outlines two legitimizing myths: the liberation of humanity and the speculative unity of all knowledge. He explains the trend in philosophy to express skepticism for totalizing philosophical narratives as part of the linguistic turn in philosophy. In the introduction to the book, Lyotard establishes the differences between modern and postmodern thought. He defines modern as a science that uses a grand narrative to legitimate itself. Conversely, postmodern is a general distrust of such metanarratives.
Innovation am lunatic fringe : Ist der Rand die Heimat der Innovation? / Christian Gärtner ; Sabine Lederle. - In: Sozioökonomische Organisationsforschung / Andreas Bergknapp ... (Hrsg.). - Mering u.a : Hampp, 2008. - S. 106-142. - (Schriftenreihe Organisation und Personal ; 18)