chapter  5
On the predictable unpredictability of organizational life: change and innovation
Pages 22

I was invited to give a keynote speech at an academic conference on innovation at a university in Scandinavia. A variety of academics, business people, representatives of local and national government attended and participated in two and a half days of interesting discussion in the five thematic tracks in the conference. There were a large number of papers presented and often detailed discussion followed, which seemed to me to set out two broad narratives about change and innovation, which are interconnected, one could even say interdependent, but through a relationship of negation. I will argue below that it would be impossible to understand innovation and change without taking both views into account, but at the same time it seems to me that one narrative threatens to cover over the other one completely. Narrative 1 was the dominant as well as the majority narrative in the conference,

which I will term the management narrative, which also has strong and urgent moral overtones of the kind I alluded to in the last chapter about the imperative of change. Narrative 2, which arose in people’s reflections on their papers or in their less formal discussions on how difficult it was to undertake innovation in their organization or context I will term the contingency narrative about how innovation happens. Both bring with them their own perspectives on the world and, I will argue, their own methods. Both arise as a consequence of trying to undertake innovative projects or change programmes in organizations which I argue are in paradoxical tension. For the sake of discussion, the two narratives are over-drawn, but I do so in

order to point to the tensions that I perceive in thinking and writing about how change comes about in organizations and to question how much we can plan it, tensions which are not always evident from academic papers or text books on the subject.