Managing the Unexpected

Kathleen M. Sutcliffe, Marlys K. Christianson

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

4 Scopus citations


Positive organizational scholarship is concerned with dynamics that enable organizational strength and flourishing. In this chapter, we argue that organizations that manage unexpected events and prevent small problems from becoming large crises are engaged in important acts of positive organizing. We assume that adverse events, crises, and accidents are not inevitable; rather, they result from small problems, surprises, and lapses that shift, grow, and escalate until they are too big to handle. This chapter focuses on a set of capabilities that allows organizations to contain and repair vulnerability. Specifically, we identify a set of critical capabilities that involve attention, awareness, and action: these include capabilities for attending to, making sense of, and not explaining away discrepancies; capabilities for updating and coordinating understanding as problems unfold; and capabilities for actively managing problems through containment and resilience. We end with avenues for future research and practice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Oxford Handbook of Positive Organizational Scholarship
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9780199940608
ISBN (Print)9780199734610
StatePublished - Nov 21 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Coping with surprise
  • High reliability organizing
  • Managing unexpected events
  • Perturbations
  • Problem finding
  • Resilience
  • Weak signals

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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