Viewing the current pandemic through a paradoxical lens

City, University of London Business School Professor explains how paradoxes created during times of crisis can be strategically managed

The current pandemic has prompted debate over key conflicting issues: ‘Young vs Old’; ‘Economy vs Healthcare’; ‘Work vs Life’.

Professor Paula Jarzabkowski, Professor of Strategic Management of City, University of London Business School believes that with the correct strategic lens, these conflicting interests can not only co-exist interdependently, they can also help one another and contribute positively to decision-making.

Professor Jarzabkowski, whose research takes a strategy-as-practice approach to disaster response and other complex issues facing governments and organisations, said that framing competing interests as continuous and dependent on one another creates a more equitable society, with greater robustness towards disaster planning.

“Paradoxes occur on an individual, group, organisational and social level, and are always present in our everyday lives whether we are aware of them or not.

“When we are faced with a problem, such as a pandemic, they become more salient – and often more dichotomous. Choices become competing forces in our minds, which leads to the suppression of important considerations in our decision making.

“This is destructive in the long-term because it leads to an ever-growing vicious cycle of conflict between the choices we have, that can impair decisions and create rifts between stakeholder groups.”

So, how does a paradoxical lens work in practice?

“By viewing competing priorities as interdependent factors that are all crucial to the decision-making process, it is possible to construct solutions based on relationality and acknowledge that forces at different ends of the spectrum can be mutually present and beneficial,” said Professor Jarzabkowski.

Man holding daughter while on laptop and phone

“Before the pandemic, for example, a common conflict was professional life versus family time. Increased working from home, where one “intrudes” into the other’s regular space, has the potential to intensify this relationship between the two. However, acknowledging the importance of both to one another, and that family time can be a part of, rather than a detractor from professional life – as seen during several recent live television interviews – can produce better results and relationships.

“My research into global insurance and the mechanisms for handling catastrophes shows that unprotected disaster risk can be reduced if governments, insurers and aid developers work on this basis – understanding that conflicting interests do exist but mapping them as forces that complement, not hinder, each other.”

Professor Jarzabkowski presented her insights into the paradoxical lens at City, University of London’s Business School’s Summer Series webinar.

Her research into mobilising insurance as a strategic response to disaster was recently awarded a grant from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

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