Exploitation, Exploration and Exaltation: Notes on a Metaphysical (Re)turn to 'One Best Way of Organizing'

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For many years within Organization Studies, broadly conceived, there was general agreement concerning the pitfalls of assuming a ‘one best way of organizing’. Organizations, it was argued, must balance different criteria of (e)valuation against one another – for example ‘exploitation’ and ‘exploration’ – depending on the situation at hand. However, in recent years a pre-commitment to values of a certain sort – expressed in a preference for innovation, improvisation and entrepreneurship over other criteria – has emerged within the field, thus shifting the terms of debate concerning organizational survival and flourishing firmly onto the terrain of ‘exploration’. This shift has been accompanied by the return of what we describe as a ‘metaphysical stance’ within Organization Studies. In this article we highlight some of the problems attendant upon the return of metaphysics to the field of organizational analysis, and the peculiar reemergence of a ‘one best way of organizing’ that it engenders. In so doing, we re-visit two classic examples of what we describe as ‘the empirical stance’ within organization theory – the work of Wilfred Brown on bureaucratic hierarchy, on the one hand, and that of Paul Lawrence and Jay Lorsch on integration and differentiation, on the other – in order to highlight the continuing importance of March’s argument that any organization is a balancing act between different and non-reducible criteria of (e)valuation. We conclude that the proper balance is not something that can be theoretically deduced or metaphysically framed, but should be based on a concrete description of the situation at hand.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationManaging ‘Human Resources’ by Exploiting and Exploring People’s Potentials
EditorsMikael Holmqvist, André Spicer
Place of PublicationBingley
PublisherEmerald Group Publishing
Publication date2013
Pages249 - 279
ISBN (Print)9781781905050
ISBN (Electronic)9781781905067
Publication statusPublished - 2013
SeriesResearch in the Sociology of Organizations

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