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Embracing Paradoxes: Practical Application Creating Emergent Knowledge

Emma Murphy
Costas Andriopoulos

Paradoxes have intrigued and challenged managers and academics alike over the past two decades. Paradoxes are defined as “contradictory yet interrelated elements—elements that seem logical in isolation but absurd and irrational when appearing simultaneously” (Lewis 2000). More usefully, Ford and Backoff (1988: 82) conceptualize paradox as “some “thing” that is constructed by individuals when oppositional tendencies are brought into recognizable proximity through reflection or interaction”. Clegg et al (2002) observe that by understanding the relationships between the opposing elements of paradoxes, synthesis occurs, thus leading to a more sophisticated understanding and practical application of the system of paradoxes. This paper supports this important observation.
     Studies into the usefulness and application of the study of paradox have dominated management and organisational literature with authors such as Lewis (2000, 2002), Cameron and Quinn (1988), Amason (1996), Eisenhardt and Westcott (1988), and Bartunek (1988) making significant progress into defining the usefulness and potential value of the study of this phenomenon. This paper demonstrates how the teaching and learning of the concept of the paradox at undergraduate level in University courses has resulted in commercial application and knowledge emergence in the creative industries in new fields; in this case, the field of design briefing. For example, by using this knowledge of the paradox, paradoxes in design briefing in the design industry have been recognised. Identification of these tensions enables design practitioners and clients to be aware of these elements; giving them the power to be proactive in managing the briefing process, rather than simply reacting to these previous unknowns of briefing sporadically.
     The findings of this paper are grounded in the authors’ fieldwork; comprising interviews with designers, design managers and design educators, 18 months of observation within a cross-disciplinary design consultancy, data gathered from two research workshops for a group of 25 designers, and archival data from an undergraduate course in managing creativity. The new paradoxes which have been developed in design briefing will be explained. For instance, one paradox is that the brief needs to be narrowed down, concise and focused in order to frame the project, yet it cannot be too constrained, as it still needs to inspire and stimulate both client and designer. These new insights into design briefing show how the study of paradoxes, with commercial application, can lead to knowledge emergence in different fields of expertise.
     This paper has important implications for educators; demonstrating how to make a potentially difficult subject both accessible and appealing to students, and the positive results this can have on industry. This is the ultimate win for educators, as there is a huge gap between industry and academia. Practitioners can also learn how embracing the ever-present theories of paradoxes can maximise their practice.

Author Bio(s)

Emma Murphy, MA (Hons)
Emma Murphy works for the cross-disciplinary design consultancy Graven Images, based in Glasgow, Scotland. She is also studying for a PhD with the School of Design at the University of Dundee. Emma is an experienced researcher and linguist, having conducted a number of workplace, marketing and business development audits for international companies. Her research interests centre around the issue of managing creativity. Emma is particularly interested in design briefing, developing and integrating processes within creative organisations with tacit knowledge, and how design performance can be measured in terms of enhanced participation. Her work has significant methodological implications in both academia and industry.

Dr Costas Andriopoulos
Dr. Andriopoulos is a Lecturer at Brunel University and is known for his research on organizational creativity and innovation within leading innovative companies in the United States and the UK. He has established a reputation for explaining the ways through which organizations unleash creativity within the workplace environment and manage the different paradoxes evident in the creative process. Costas's latest streams of research focus on individuals' sources of inspiration, the different principles creative companies use assist their employees in developing their self-esteem, and most importantly the different creativity paradoxes identified and managed by leading creative firms. He strongly believes that organizational creativity and innovation are key forces in driving an organization to its desired future state. He has published numerous articles in leading scholarly and applied publications including Long Range Planning, Design Management Journal, Corporate Reputation Review, and he is the author of the forthcoming book "Managing Creativity, Innovation and Change" (Pearson Education). He currently acts as an ad-hoc reviewer for various leading academic publications, such as Long Range Planning, and conferences like the Academy of Management Annual Conference (US).