Apr 30, 2012

intentional ambiguity

Tenses are important:

abstract: This ethnography of nine internationally renowned avant-garde culinary groups in the US and Europe shows that they operate successfully despite having intentionally ambiguous (and hence uncertain and unstable) member roles and group goals. This is in contrast to the sizeable body of research suggesting that individuals and groups need clarity and stability to function effectively. I describe how this intentional ambiguity modifies group and interpersonal processes in these groups, then propose explanations for how these modifications might allow them to adapt to changing resources and environments and enable their members to teach and learn complex things such as house style. I conclude by showing how internal ambiguity supports adaptability and thus helps groups respond to external ambiguity.

TL;DR version: Ambiguity and uncertainty are not always bad. Wisely deployed, they can be beneficial for those in the business of innovation or working in unpredictable and rapidly changing environments. Which is nearly everyone working in a high-end restaurant, a startup, or an R&D group these days.

Just saying.

committee: Christopher Winship (co-chair), Amy Edmondson (co-chair), Jeffrey Polzer.

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