Understanding the Stability-Change Paradox: Insights from the Evolutionary, Adaptation, and Institutionalization Perspectives

Article excerpt

Examining the paradoxical nature of organization and management, three prevailing organization-environment relations and organizational change perspectives are discussed: the evolutionary, adaptation, and institutionalization perspectives. Their implications for paradoxical phenomena (in particular, stability and change) in intraand inter-organizational structure are also discussed. Finally, an integrative perspective is suggested for future organizational theories and perspectives.


This study explores the implications of the evolutionary, adaptation, and institutionalization perspectives for managing the stability-change paradox in intraand inter-organizational structure. Organization-environment relations and organizational change have a long history in the organizational literature. Studied separately at first, they are the main ideas underlying the main perspective in modem organizational analysis (Bedeian, 1987).

Compared to earlier studies that focused on stability, recent theorists have increasingly focused on change and/or the continuous vacillation between stability and change (Burrell and Morgan, 1979). Two sources of organizational change have been widely debated. Some theories emphasize internally driven change (Van de Ven and Poole, 1988), while others emphasize externally driven change (McKelvey, 1982). Externally focused theories consider change a deterministic (environmentally determined) phenomena while internally focused theories adopt a voluntaristic (proactive) perspective. While closely related to the evolutionary, adaptation, and institutionalization perspectives, these theories generate a number of paradoxical requirements (e.g., action-structure, stability-change, voluntarism-determinism) that need to be resolved before organization-environment relations and organizational change can be fully understood.

After discussing the paradoxical characteristics of intra- and inter-organizational structure, implications from the evolutionary, adaptation, and institutionalization perspectives will be presented to better explain stability and change in intra- and inter-organizational structure.

Paradoxical Characteristics in Intra- and Inter-organizational Structure

Van de Ven and Poole (1988: p.22) define a paradox as "a real or apparent contradiction between equally well-based assumptions or conclusions." This paper explores the determinism-voluntarism paradox and the stability-change paradox form the evolutionary, adaptation, and institutionalization perspectives. It lays the groundwork for developing a theory of organizational change that integrates the findings of research from these three perspectives by clarifying each perspective's implications for the stability-change paradox. The next section builds upon the above discussion of organizational paradoxes by addressing the implications for stability and change inherent in or explicitly stated by theorists from the evolutionary, adaptation, and institutionalization perspectives.

The Evolutionary Perspective

Evolution can be thought of as a process of successive differentiation and integration. Evolutionary or life-cycle aspects of organizational phenomena have been studied by many organizational researchers. Generally, they have proposed three different organizational evolution frameworks: 1) Ecological models which emphasize change across populations of organizations as the result of net mortality driven by processes of environmental selection (Hannan and Freeman, 1989; McKelvey, 1982); 2) Adaptation models which emphasize incremental change and moving equilibria as more effective organizations adapt to environmental threats and opportunities (Aldrich, 1979); and 3) Transformational models which focus on metamorphic changes in organizations (Miller, 1982).

From those approaches to organizational evolution, Tushman and Romanelli (1985) developed a model of organizational evolution and argued that organizations evolve through the interaction of internal convergent forces for stability and external forces for change as mediated by executive leadership. …


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