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Understanding adaptive culture: Exploring the role of symbols in the emergence of innovative solutions in a marketing firm

Ivana Milosevic, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


This research explores how the adaptive culture, culture that interweaves stability and changes processes, works through the emergence of innovative solutions. I specifically focus on symbols to understand the dynamics of innovative solution emergence, and the ways in which adaptive culture works through them. In doing so, I draw from research on symbols as well as theorizing about emergence in complexity theory, findings regarding innovation processes, and literature on organizational culture to explicate the nature of an adaptive culture. In my findings, I first zoom in and explore the microdynamics of innovative solutions emergence as a key process in an adaptive culture. In the second step I zoom out in my exploration and provide a portrait of an adaptive culture of Solution Inc. In accord with extant culturally informed research I employ an ethnographic method to study the culture of the innovative marketing solution firm "Solution, Inc." My findings indicate that the adaptive culture works through (1) symbolic integrative processes that bridge local solutions thus creating pervasive interconnections and (2) through careful and selective interweaving of flexible structures (stability) throughout and around innovative solutions (change) thus giving rise to entanglement. My findings also illustrate that innovative solutions are a critical aspect of the adaptive culture. Innovative solutions emerge through iterative processes developing across three dynamic and entangled stages. To this end, my study has three important theoretical contributes. First, I contribute to the innovation literature by explicating the process through which innovative solutions emerge. Second, I contribute to the new wave of organizational culture research by illustrating the dynamic nature of the adaptive culture. Finally, this study contribute to the extant understanding of complex adaptive systems by providing a fine grained depiction of the pervasive and fractal nature of entanglement as a defining property of contemporary organizations.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Milosevic, Ivana, "Understanding adaptive culture: Exploring the role of symbols in the emergence of innovative solutions in a marketing firm" (2014). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3630024.