The Learning Spiral: A Process Perspective on Paradox

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Department or Administrative Unit


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Paradox theory enables management research to replace either/or thinking with more integrative both/and approaches. Despite this achievement, greater theoretical complexity is needed to account for paradoxical tensions’ intricacies. We use dialectics theory to unpack the learning processes through which organizational members and collectives build their capacity to understand and cope with complex tensions over time. Building on these insights, we develop a paradox process model that resembles a learning spiral, in which organizations move through stages of convergence and divergence. During the convergence stages, they learn about and refine their current worldviews by constantly moving between the tension’s poles. During the divergence stages, they move beyond dynamic equilibrium to reach a higher understanding of tensions and their management. While organizations caught in equilibrium are prone to stasis and demise, those that move beyond equilibrium can achieve sustainability.


This article was originally published in Journal of Management Studies. The full-text article from the publisher can be found here.

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Journal of Management Studies


© 2018 John Wiley & Sons Ltd and Society for the Advancement of Management Studies