Business Plasticity through Disorganization

ISBN: 978-1-78756-212-7, eISBN: 978-1-78756-211-0

Publication date: 24 April 2019


Herath, D.B., Secchi, D., Homberg, F. and Herath, G.B. (2019), "Prelims", Business Plasticity through Disorganization, Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. i-xxvii.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019 Emerald Publishing Limited

Half Title Page

Business Plasticity through Disorganization

Title Page

Business Plasticity through Disorganization

Dinuka B. Herath

Foreword by Davide Secchi

With contributions from

Fabian Homberg and Gayanga B. Herath

United Kingdom – North America – Japan India – Malaysia – China

Copyright Page

Emerald Publishing Limited

Howard House, Wagon Lane, Bingley BD16 1WA, UK

First edition 2019

Copyright © 2019 Emerald Publishing Limited

Reprints and permissions service


No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, transmitted in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without either the prior written permission of the publisher or a licence permitting restricted copying issued in the UK by The Copyright Licensing Agency and in the USA by The Copyright Clearance Center. Any opinions expressed in the chapters are those of the authors. Whilst Emerald makes every effort to ensure the quality and accuracy of its content, Emerald makes no representation implied or otherwise, as to the chapters’ suitability and application and disclaims any warranties, express or implied, to their use.

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

ISBN: 978-1-78756-212-7 (Print)

ISBN: 978-1-78756-211-0 (Online)

ISBN: 978-1-78756-213-4 (Epub)


To my family, papa, Kasia Kordula


∼ Selina Lundström (1993–2017) ∼


List of Figures ix
List of Tables x
About the Author xi
About the Contributors xiii
Foreword xv
Preface xxv
Acknowledgments xxvii
Chapter 1 Sorting the “Mess” from the Rest 1
Section A: Origins
Chapter 2 The Problem with “Order” 19
Chapter 3 Birth of Disorganization 29
Section B: Understanding Disorganization
Chapter 4 The Logic of Disorganization 39
Chapter 5 Coping with Stochasticity 45
Chapter 6 Order in Chaos 53
Section C: Implementing Disorganization
Chapter 7 Goal-driven Disorganization 63
Chapter 8 Structural Disorganization 69
Chapter 9 Functional Disorganization 77
Section D: Towards Business Plasticity
Chapter 10 Business Plasticity 87
Chapter 11 Toward Plasticity: Disorganization as a Sustainable Capability 95
Section E: Implications
Chapter 12 Future of Disorganization: A Research Agenda for Scholars 107
Chapter 13 Studying the Cognitive Elements of Disorganization 113
Chapter 14 Lessons for Practice – On the Relevance of the Study of “Disorganization” for Practitioners 117
Chapter 15 At the End of Day 121
References 125
Index 135

List of Figures

Fig 1. Expectation. 6
Fig 2. Reality Uncovered through Empirical Evidence. 6
Fig 3. Lifecycle of Disorganization. 8
Fig 4. System Resilience. 51
Fig 5. Organized (X) and Disorganized (Y) Structural Topology. 71
Fig 6. Low, Medium and High Structural Disorganization. 72
Fig 7. Decision-making Options. 73
Fig 8. Implementation Guide for Structural Disorganization. 74
Fig 9. Convectional Functional Barriers. 79
Fig 10. Functional Disorganization. 80
Fig 11. Low, Medium and High Functional Disorganization. 81
Fig 12. Implementation Options for Disorganization. 90
Fig 13. Calibrating the Solution Variance. 97
Fig 14. Interconnection between Organized and Disorganized Systems. 100
Fig 15. Subsystems Approach. 101

List of Tables

Table 1. When One Perceives Disorder (Examples). xxi
Table 2. Terminology Used in the Book. 11
Table 3. Chapter Breakdown. 13
Table 4. Evolutionary Phases of Disorganization. 34
Table 5. Modern Aims of Disorganization Research. 35
Table 6. Primary Axioms of Business Plasticity. 89
Table 7. Understanding Initial Conditions. 97
Table 8. Research Agenda. 110

About the Author

Dr Dinuka B. Herath is a Lecturer in Organisation Studies at the University of Huddersfield, UK. He is a fellow of the British Higher Education Academy and a member of the European Academy of Management (EURAM). He holds a Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management from Bournemouth University, UK, an MSc in Information Systems from the University of East Anglia, and a BSc (Hons) in Business Information Technology from Staffordshire University, UK. He has had a relatively unique route both in his education and career having completed his Bachelor’s degree at age 20, MSc at age 21, and Ph.D. at age 26 while also becoming a marketing manager at age 22. His research has been funded by EURAM, Bournemouth University, and Huddersfield University. He has also worked as a Research and Teaching Specialist for European Union-funded projects. Furthermore, he has research papers published in multiple reputed journals and has guest edited numerous journal special issues focusing on entrepreneurship and business plasticity. In addition, he regularly organizes research symposiums covering topics such as disorganization, plasticity, and agility. Apart from his academic career, he is also a Business Consultant and has extensive industry experience. He has been featured on the BBC World News and his work on disorganization and organizational plasticity have been featured in Newsweek, The Conversation UK, Yahoo News, and multiple other prominent media outlets.

Keep up to date with Dr Herath’s research and projects:

  • Facebook Page: Dr Dinuka B. Herath (@drdinukaherath)

  • Twitter: @DrDinukaHerath

  • LinkedIn: Dr Dinuka B. Herath

About the Contributors

Dr Fabian Homberg is Associate Professor of Human Resource Management and Organisational Behaviour at LUISS Guido Carli University, Department of Business and Management. His current research interests are public service motivation and incentives in private and public sector organizations. He has also been involved in research projects on top management team diversity, motivation, and recently small scale corruption. Among others his research has appeared in Organization Studies, Group and Organization Management, Public Administration Review, Public Administration, Journal of Business Ethics, International Journal of Manpower, American Review of Public Administration, and Journal of Management and Governance.

Gayanga B. Herath is a Ph.D. Research Fellow at the Department of Language and Communication at University of Southern Denmark. He is one of the youngest research fellows at the university. He is also a committee member of the Research Center for Computational and Organisational Cognition, a research center devoted to the study of cognitive aspects in and around organizations, with emphasis on encouraging a wide range of approaches and research methodologies, with particular emphasis – although not exclusively – on computational social science and on the facets of distributed cognitive processes. He has a Bachelor of Engineering (Hons) degree along with knowledge and project experience in Computer Networks and Security. He also has a Master’s degree in the domain of IT, Management and Organizational Change from the University of Lancaster in the UK. His current research interests are within the domain of organizational cognition, with emphasis on computational simulation, particularly agent-based modeling (ABM). He is also currently working on ABM projects within the fields of economics and recruitment and selection.


What a Mess!

Do you like mess? Before you answer, take a look at the place where you are right now, as you read this book. You may be at home on the couch, reading on a computer at your office’s desk, or perhaps in a coffee shop. Now, there are many different aspects you may observe. Some may give you an idea of how much disorder there is. Let us consider the area next to you. If you see that artifacts and people are in a position that seems systematic, neat, and consistent with what they are there to do, then you may say that the area around you is organized in an orderly fashion. If not, then there is some level of mess. But this is only one aspect of it – physical or material positioning – and definitely does not cover it. A place can be dirty, and that contributes to giving the feeling that something is not quite in place, it is not done as it should. Untidiness usually goes hand in hand with misplacement but not always. The concept of order includes tidiness, the same as disorder or mess may show degrees of untidiness. And what about sound? There might be music or chatting to a level such that you feel obstructed by or embedded in it. That also contributes to creating confusion and a sense of disorder. This factor can be called the degree of noise in a given environment.

What I described above is very close to my grandmother’s concept of disorder or mess. The concept would also include inappropriate tasks performed by individuals at times when they were supposed to something else. This would be playing at the time when one was supposed to take care of homework from school; something that could be called ideal positioning. Small variations out of her frame for ideal or physical position, tidiness, and noise would constitute a logu prontu a partiri.1

Prescriptive Norms and Disorder

Most approaches to disorder and mess have been looking at some objective measurement, in order to qualify it, describe how it affects individuals, and what it can be done to reduce it. This is a very important aspect of the study of disorder/mess because it is an attempt to understand if there is a way to identify it.It is the approach presented by Abrahamson (2002) that is also discussed further in this book. In spite of the good intentions and the positives that such a measurement would bring to management, no actual measure has been successfully and consistently applied – as far as my knowledge is concerned, at least. As Dinuka Herath shows through the pages of this book, it is in fact extremely difficult to produce such a measure. Parallels to entropy are widespread (e.g., Davis, 2011), but an organization is not a gas transforming from one state to another. For example, it is clear that the “state” (better “states”) in which human beings find themselves vary continuously and transformations are seldom finite. Also, changing the physical position of objects or artifacts does not modify their molecular state. Yet, one may clearly observe if some supplies are misplaced, if the production site is structured and organized or if it works mostly on improvised and ad hoc procedures. There are systematic ways to produce goods and services, and determine a workable (viable) sensible mode to perform tasks. Deviations from those modes are somehow indications of disorder or mess. Hence, there is a norm to which one refers to. These types of deviations from order are such because benchmarked to a prescriptive norm to which the resources had to conform.

This prescriptive norm applies to material artifacts of various nature –for example, supplies, computers, screens, and desks – but invariably requires individuals’ interpretation. The norm could have been defined many years ago or created as one approaches the material artifact, but it is clear that there ought to be one if a judgment on order/disorder has to be made. Going back to the example at the beginning, the sense of disorder derives from an assessment that compares the situation to a norm. And this norm is part of the understanding of the individual(s). My grandmother’s prescriptive norm for order was extremely strict so that nothing could fall out of place – and she was the only judge who could say what this “right” place would be. In other words, one of the difficulties in measuring disorder/mess is this human aspect that is inherent to it. Disorder is, ultimately, a perception that individuals feel about work, life, or ideas. Some of these forces operating toward order are well justified, some are not. Problems arise when one has to (a) define an acceptable level of order versus disorder and (b) identify what constitutes a healthy or opportunities-filled disorder state.

In the remaining part of this foreword, I will briefly outline some of the aspects that characterize individual dispositions toward disorder/mess and finish with an encouragement to read past this forward.

The Cognition of Disorder: Prolegomena to a Theory

Before we move forward, I believe I need to discuss the proverbial “elephant in the room.” This is the fact that I have been mostly referring to mess and disorder while the book deals with disorganization. The two concepts are related and there are many overlaps, in fact, this book addresses definitional and conceptual problems arising from using the various terms. In this foreword, I simply define disorganization as multiple and systematic occurrences of disorder and mess in a business.2

Coupling Mechanisms

As soon as we turn to the individual and try to understand what happens with an assessment of disorder – as with any assessment or evaluation – we cannot do without cognition. Broadly defined, cognition entails the enabling conditions for behavior and action, together with those pertaining to thinking (Wheeler, 2005). As such, especially when it explains the doings of individuals in organizations, it is inherently social. Behavior works as a cognitive mediator: (a) it helps the realization of one’s own thinking (Magnani, 2007), (b) it is framed through higher-order theories of mind (i.e. what others think of what I do; Devaine, Hollard, and Daunizeau, 2014), and (c) it may be directed at self/other understanding. For example, by sending an email one has more time to reflect on the actual message because of the writing feedback loops into one’s cognition so that it is an externalization that supports and refines the concept. At the same time, the email has one or more recipients and that is part of the way an email is crafted since an intelligent sender should reflect upon the way a message is going to be received. One may say that the cognition of others is part of one’s own when the sender postulates about how another may take the message in the email. Finally, the message may have the aim of clarifying a position, specifying a frame/setting, or other explanatory/understanding purposes. There, the various aids for writing one has on the computer (e.g., a dictionary, another email, a document to attach, and a link to refer to) are an essential aid to one’s cognition.

When one considers how behavior and action are framed through the perspective above, it becomes apparent that they are cognitive. Hence, not only cognition is extended to the various resources available, embedded in one’s individuality, and always ecologically situated in a given set of conditions, practices, norms, it is embodied because it cannot be without the complex making of the human physicality, and it is also enacted or made through action (Menary, 2010; Secchi & Cowley, 2018). In other words, cognition is nurtured by social interactions, shaped by norms and the use of artifacts or, in one expression, it is dependent on (and it affects) the exploitation of external resources (Secchi & Bardone, 2009).

From this distributed cognitive perspective (Cowley & Vallee-Tourangeau, 2017; Hutchins, 1995), it is apparent that the social sphere affects one’s way to conceptualize, interpret, and act on disorder. To make this conceptualization easier to operationalize, Clark and Chalmers (1998) propose the idea that cognitive mechanisms happen by series of couplings with external resources – including social resources and others in general (Secchi, 2011). In a recent article (Jensen, Secchi, & Jensen, 2018),3 two colleagues and I propose a classification of these mechanisms, in socio-material and conceptual as they specifically refer to the interplay between social channels and cognition. While the former (socio-material) is meant to describe exploitation of artifacts, such as using a computer or a tool, the latter describes couplings with ideas and other abstract elements that make interactions actually work. Normative aspects of organizational life would fall into conceptual couplings, as one adapts to a given working environment by knowing, interpreting, and applying organizational norms, among many other doings. These are essential to structure one’s interaction in a given environment. Take the case of someone joining a team in the finance department of a large firm. There are set procedures and routines that are meant to ease the workflow and pressure for individuals. Knowing them and understanding what they mean in practice allows the newcomer to “fit in.” Of course, these procedures and routines are set to create some level of order in the workplace. It is crucial that they are explained and shown by a colleague – a mentor, perhaps – in an attempt to expedite the newcomer’s “fitting in” process. Flaws in the process make it such that misinterpretation or wrongdoings may create some level of confusion and disorder, hence making these procedures and routines work less efficiently and somehow differently. For the newcomer, two cognitive couplings have to happen at the same time, one is the extent to which he/she could take in the suggestions and information coming from the mentor (also called “docility”; Secchi, 2011; Secchi & Bardone, 2009; Simon, 1993) – a material social coupling mechanism. Another is the compatibility between the organizational norm (i.e. the procedures and routines in the(an) example) and the individual readiness and willingness to adopt them – a conceptual coupling mechanism. A newcomer with experience from a long career in another firm may understand the procedure and decide to change it and make it better. That creates uncertainty and, eventually, disorder. Importantly, it won’t necessarily create a lack of effectiveness and it may even improve efficiency in the workplace, but it would be misaligned with previous work practices. From this example it is apparent that various possible combinations of these two couplings may provide an indication of the perceptions of disorder.

Three Domains

Perception is a wide domain in cognitive psychology, and these pages are not the place to get into its theory. At the same time, one could discuss the dynamics of disorder perceptions as they relate to the distributed cognitive mechanisms outlined in the previous pages. Each individual would have a mix of components that, together, determine their dealings with disorder. Some are grounded in individual characteristics such as history/experience, skills, competencies, and other more general attitudes toward the self and the others. Others depend on the way individuals use several combinations of their individual traits and characteristics to engage with others in a way that creates understanding, meaning sense, and various domains of interconnections. Finally, other aspects on one’s reasoning depend on the overall structural elements, for example, formal and informal rules, physical constraints, and other super-structural aspects – that provide a cultural framework in which to operate. The first is the micro-domain while the last is the macro; the second is a meso-domain and that is where most of the relevant organizational cognition happens (see Secchi & Cowley, 2018, 2016).

The two coupling mechanisms described above can only be understood (and actually make sense) when correlated with components of these three domains. In fact, we can draw some connections from the example of email writing. The process of writing at a computer may be thought of as falling into the micro-domain. The higher-level thoughts on how an email could be taken or on the elaboration of the message are more happenings at the meso-domain. The macro-domain provides with institutional norms that shape the typical interaction dynamics in an organization. These are only examples and we invite the reader to refer to other work to explore these domains further (Secchi, 2011; Secchi & Cowley, 2018, 2016).

How It Happens

A perception of disorder in organizations may emerge as a result of dissonance or unfitting occurrence that can be framed at the interception of two or more of these domains. What mentioned at the beginning of this Foreword – the influence of a prescriptive norm – is equivalent to the impact that the macro has on both meso- and micro-domains of interaction. Disorder is spotted when, for example, the place of an artifact (e.g., a tool) is different from the prescribed place, or its use is different from that instructed by the organization. In a restaurant, for example, when adding salt on the chips, one is supposed to put it back into its original spot. There is a procedure to follow. And it does not matter if it is more effective to place it elsewhere, failing to place it where it was originally may result in the perception of some degree of disorder.

A similar process could be mapped when one considers conceptual couplings. A particular index (e.g., ROS – return on sales) may be used only in connection to another (e.g., ROI – return on investment), but one may start breaking the procedure and infer different information by using it in connection to various others (e.g., liquidity indexes). The fact of breaking the “rule” would result in better understanding of a company’s finances, but it may also leave the persons involved with a feeling of being unaccepted or of having broken free from group identity. The (macro) norm is somehow shaping the perception of the new approach, considered out of the usual order.

At the micro- and the meso-domain interception, disorder may be perceived as individual experience clashes with the way others conduct business in the organization. By reverting the example above, one may say that most newcomers have the impression that business is conducted somehow in a disorderly manner during the first days of their job, at least. This impression increases, perhaps, with the newcomer’s increasing experience and longer work history. Some ways of interaction may result disordered and slightly disorganized or they may be not, as people in different organizations are known for conducting business in a fairly different variety of ways. This works for both uses of material artifacts and for discussing and making sense of concepts. It is clear that the way individuals interact – the way, for example, an employee may report to his/her boss (or not) – is also shaped by cultural norms as they have developed in the organization as a whole (i.e. the macro-domain).

Table 1 provides some examples of how disorder perceptions may be interpreted by using the framework outlined here. The intersections between domains identify possible ways in which disorder can be perceived. The descriptions in the cells up the diagonal consider socio-material couplings, while those in the lower part deal with conceptual couplings. This is, of course, a proposal for a conceptualization of this cognitive approach to disorder, and it is meant as a foundational effort toward a theory that tackles with these issues. When considering both interceptions (upper and lower diagonals), the two most likely to determine disorganization perceptions are those involving the meso-domains. This is because this is the domain where social interaction happens and where most of the meaning is actually formed in organizations.

Adapting to Disorder

Studying ways in which disorder and disorganization can be identified are certainly necessary to understand the cognitive mechanisms in place. Of course, these pages are by no means the final words on this aspect. On the contrary, they are just a sketch of what a (hopefully) useful theory for the understanding and mapping of the cognition of disorder could be. But, how would one overcome the discomfort that derives from disorder? Or, better, when does disorder come not to cause discomfort?

It is by taking from the pages that follow in this book that one is able to indicate how cognitive processes could find disorder and disorganization an effective tool. Some of these elements are linked to the functional, others are related to the structural. A functional determination of disorder/mess derives from the impression (or a factual confirmation) that efficient work cannot be conducted. In this respect, this is a negative connotation, because it frames work as a decrease of input costs/resources when the output remains the same or increases (i.e. efficiency). Hence, the assessment is due to the instrumentality of the conditions and their use toward a goal. This implies that a more positive connotation of disorder is accompanied by an instrumental use of that mess. If the use of that particular tool or misplacement of another is somehow effective in completing a task or solving a problem, for example, then the perception of disorder may be associated with a sense of positivity. If repeated, this may constitute a cognitive explanation of the reason why the functional element of disorganization (as discussed in this book) may support organizational work.

The second element relates to the configuration of resources in a given workspace. In other words, resources (of any kind, including humans) map on some model, either predefined or apparent as soon as one approaches the workspace. This structural element is also anchored to the existing configuration of resources, but it clearly assumes that there are normative prescriptive values in place. Similarly, with the functional, the structural element can also relate to positive assessments of disorder, if it allows reaching better or improved performance.

Table 1:

When One Perceives Disorder (Examples).

Domain of Interactions Micro Meso Macro
Micro Exploiting tools and artifacts or engaging with an idea The use (or abuse) of oregano on a classic pizza may be subject to reprimand by the head pizza-maker, creating a feeling of disorder on both sides Organizational culture may be such that nobody is authorized to append paper out of the office door. By doing so, one contravenes to the shared norm
Meso One’s understanding of a routine may not be in line with what others in the team understand that routine is there for. Both sides will perceive out-of-order (mis)understanding Interacting with colleagues to foster identification, definition, understanding, diagnosing of tasks, problems, and organizational processes A research unit decides that they should have a logo to communicate with the outside world. The organization has a policy of no-logo outside of their own. The sense of frustration (on the unit’s hand) and confusion (on the corporate hand) bring in disorder
Macro One may identify one’s own team as hierarchy-free. The organization may still require to follow formal lines when submitting a report. One may then be disoriented by the mismatch between the understanding of work and organizational bureaucracy One is not supposed to disagree directly with others. When that happens, some may have a feeling of confrontation and hostility that is not conducive to neat (regular) communication The institutional constraints incumbent on one’s action (e.g., organizational culture, procedures, routines, and norms)

Note. Descriptions in the interception of the upper diagonal consider examples with perceptions of disorder in the case of socio-material couplings while those in the lower diagonal part consider conceptual cognitive couplings and perceptions of disorder.

Both elements could be considered separately or in combination and I am proposing some sort of reinforcement process, such that – either functionally or structurally – cognitive mechanisms leading to disorder/disorganization are deemed effective and repeated. Nothing can be simply repeated when we consider the intersections in Table 1, but cognitive patterns could be isolated.

Why Read This Book?

So who likes mess? Some people do. Actually, most people do. Perfect order is not for human beings, nor is it for successful businesses. This book takes the discussion in exactly this direction. Not only it is impossible to reach any god-like level of perfection, but it is also unknown (and unknowable), and especially not apt to the regular functioning of individuals in social systems. The cognitive patterns indicated above are complex, dynamic, adaptive, hence they change constantly. Not once there could be the same situation leading to the same cognitive process. This is an inherent disorder that, at a more systemic level, one may call disorganization.

This book is important for at least two reasons. One is that the author has the bravery to ask an inconvenient question. A question that has been in front of all of us since the beginning of time. What is a workable level of disorganization? It is brave because, on the one hand, it assumes that there is disorganization, on the other, it assumes that it does not necessarily spill negative implications for the organization.

The history of management and organization research is constellated by the denial of this statement. Actually, their foundation is a testament to order. With new waves of technological innovation (e.g., big data, industry 4.0), these foundational management principles revive and lead to a new spree for order. They are, of course, illusions; disorganization is everywhere. This is not to say that we should stop organizing, or attempting at becoming more efficient. But to keep approaching managerial problems as if all disorganization is eminently “bad” is a mistake. This book shows how aspects of disorganization can be acknowledged, defined, diagnosed, and put to work. And this foreword advances some propositions to explain what is the cognitive backbone of disorganization.

Another very important reason for reading this book is that it does not just consider disorganization. It does so by employing a technical methodological arsenal that is adequate to the problems at hand. It is only by acknowledging that social systems are always complex, adaptive, and dynamic (Edmonds & Meyer, 2017; Secchi & Neumann, 2016) that one is able to observe the role of disorganization. Therefore, the choice of agent-based computational simulation modeling (Fioretti, 2013; Secchi, 2015) as one of the techniques among the most appropriate (if not the most appropriate) to analyze disorganization. This is a very advanced computational technique that allows taking into consideration the emergent properties of a system. And these are among those that can only be accounted for if one includes some degree of disorganization in the system – as brilliantly shown in the book.

Of course, there is much to do in the study of disorganization, but this book constitutes one among the very few steps in a fruitful direction. If we agree with the statement that social systems are complex, we must not avoid disorganization and include it as foundation for a renewed field of management and organizational research.


On a more personal note, this book is a source of great inspiration, and I wish to thank the author, Dinuka B. Herath, for the invitation to write a Foreword. Not a long time ago, I supervised Dinuka’s Ph.D. with the invaluable help of Dr Fabian Homberg. He is now a well-published colleague who develops and expands our common research interests by adding critical value. It is an immense pleasure for me to have written this Foreword, I hope it lives only up to the level of the book. I also must extend a big thank you to my mother and father, who were so kind to remind me of the Sardinian expressions used early on in this Foreword. Finally, I completed these pages as I was on vacation with my beautiful wife. She is usually very patient with me and this time she made sure I could write even if we looked very much forward to this holiday together. Thank you, my gioia, I am done now.

Davide Secchi

Associate Professor of Organisational Cognition,

University of Southern Denmark

Director, Research Centre for Computational and Organisational Cognition

Department of Language and Communication


Translated literally from Sardinian, it means that there is so much disorder that the place looks as if everything is ready to fly around or just go by means of its own will. It is typical of Sardinian to use colorful paraphrases to express various concepts. A single word for it would be “carraxiu” (more direct for “confusion” or “mess”) but that is not what my grandmother would have said; you had to “feel it” to act on the mess.


This is a rather simplistic definition that does not, de facto, address the problem. One may ask what is “mess” then, or what is “disorder,” what do I mean with “systematic” and “occurrence.” This Foreword is not the place to address all these aspects and I refer to the book and the pages that follows for a definition of all these terms.


An earlier version of this paper was presented at the EGOS conference in 2015. The current version is very different from that earlier one and, as of today, it is still unpublished and in search for a home.


This book represents the culmination of five years of research. My first encounter with the phenomenon of disorganization was rather confusing; especially since up to that point, disorganization always seemed to be a something that was unwanted and perhaps even despised by many. Moreover, disorganization created the mental image of political unrest or a really cluttered room in my mind. Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised when I started reading Eric Abrahamson’s (2002) paper on “Disorganization theory and disorganization behaviour.” Since this fateful encounter, I have been fascinated with its promise as well as its applicability to how we manage our organizations. The appeal of this topic to me is twofold. First, given disorganization as a research endeavor is still in its infancy, the first appeal for me is being able to be one of the few people exploring this topic in-depth and having the ability to forge the path is exploring disorganization as we go along. This book being one of the first of its kind fully dedicated to exploring disorganization within businesses is a case in point. The second appeal has to do with my inclination for novelty in my work and research. Even though, I have varying research interests, disorganization research has always been at the top of my list due to its unique standing in management thinking. Disorganization as discussed in this book stands at odds with the conventional ways in which we approach management. Even among the new converts who are sympathetic toward the concepts of disorganization, given its lack of maturity as a field, many scholars find it rather problematic assimilating all the information required to move this field forward. Most of the work in regard to disorganization is sporadic and few and far between. Therefore, my fundamental motivation for writing this book was to provide the necessary foundational text that a scholar or perhaps a practitioner who wants to explore disorganization can use as a starting point.

In writing this book, I was able to gather a lot of information spanning over six decades which looked at concepts relating to disorganization. It was a challenging task to synthesize all these pieces of knowledge into one coherent narrative. It was also very interesting to see how concepts of disorganization sit in relation to similar concepts such as flexibility, agility, malleability, dexterity, and adaptability. Having spent a lot of time dealing with these etymological issues, I could see why our notions of disorganization were developed in sporadic patches. Therefore, one of my aims was to make sure that these issues are resolved in this book. In doing so, my intention was to provide a precise set of definitions and concepts which clearly carve out a space for disorganization while also emphasizing why the concepts of disorganization deserves its own seat at the intellectual table.

Ultimately, I hope that you will learn to appreciate the concepts disorganization presented in this book as much as I have enjoyed developing and writing them. Regardless, of your starting point in terms of your previous exposure to the concepts of disorganization, I believe there is something valuable in this book for everyone who is interested in management. Therefore, I have written this book in a manner which is designed to communicate to both practitioners and researchers simultaneously. Achieving this was not an easy task. However, in the world we live in today, it is imperative that academics and practitioners have a healthy and consistent dialog on the things that matter to us. After all, this is the only way in which we can face the challenges that await us in the twenty-first century.

∼ Thank You ∼


I would like to acknowledge and show my appreciation to Dr Davide Secchi and Dr Fabian Homberg who have been the driving force behind my research for the past five years. Their constant guidance, wisdom, and assistance have been immense throughout the development of this book. I would also like to thank Gayanga B. Herath, Mahinda B. Herath, and Kumudini Yapa for their care, guidance, and companionship, without which this book or the research preceding it would not have been possible. In addition, I would like thank my loving grandparents along with my uncle Ananda, aunt Amitha, and Anuka B. Herath who have always shown me love and support. I would also like to extend my heartfelt gratitude to Miss Katarzyna Kordula who has also been an exceptional source of support throughout the development of this book. I would also like to show my appreciation to the University of Huddersfield and more specifically, the Business School for being an excellent support system. In addition, I am appreciative of the backing the Organizational Behaviour Special Interest Group at the European Academy of Management has given me by funding some of the research that formed the basis of this book. Finally, I would like to thank all the authors that I have cited in this manuscript for their excellent work which helped me breathe life into the arguments and make the discussion more colorful.