DOI: 10.1287/orsc.2020.14743 ISSN: 1047-7039

Finding Creativity in Predictability: Seizing Kairos in Chronos Through Temporal Work in Complex Innovation Processes

Birke D. Otto, Elke S. Schuessler, Jörg Sydow, Lukas Vogelgsang
  • Management of Technology and Innovation
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management
  • Strategy and Management

Managing temporal complexity is a fundamental challenge in complex innovation processes, yet the temporal work whereby actors seize opportune moments (kairos) in an environment dominated by clock-time structures (chronos) remains elusive. Temporal tensions can partly be resolved through entrainment, that is, by aligning activities with dominant temporal structures. However, although entrainment ensures the exploitation of a predefined path, it is unable to harness unexpected developments as opportunities for exploration. Thus, navigating the competing temporal demands of chronos and kairos requires not just ambidextrous but also ambitemporal organizing. Collecting and analyzing in-depth interview and observational data from pharmaceutical drug discovery and development, we find that actors sometimes resolve temporal tensions through entrainment to ensure coordination and predictability. In other instances, however, actors abductively transform temporal tensions into novel interpretations and new courses of action. As such, temporal tensions become more than a bothersome deviation from the planned schedule, but an opportunity for creative agency. This understanding of kairos—as a process unfolding through temporal work—relies not only on detraining from chronos (i.e., momentarily detaching from the dominant temporal structure to question underlying assumptions), but also on its reframing and reconfiguration. We contribute to the literature on complex innovation and temporality by theorizing a transformative perspective on ambitemporal organizing, which relies less on paradoxical notions and instead emphasizes how kairos is enacted and seized within and from chronos.

Funding: This work was supported by German Research Foundation (DFG) funding for the Research Unit “Organized Creativity” [Grant FOR 2161] as well as by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) [10.55776/I4884].

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