Doubt and Organization
25 Pages Posted: 11 May 2021 Last revised: 13 May 2021
Date Written: May 8, 2021
Doubt is an important, yet largely overlooked part of organisational life. In recent years, a small but fragmented literature on the topic has appeared. It treats doubt something largely negative which inhibits action or something positive and ‘generative’. These approaches often overlook the ambivalent nature of doubt. To address this shortcoming, I would like to draw together the fragmented existing research on the topic to explore doubt as double-edged sword which can have both positive and negative outcomes. I will argue organisations are held together by common beliefs. These beliefs are frequently disturbed by breakdowns, anomalies, complexities and outsiders. Most of the time such disturbances are overlooked thanks to our cognitive biases. But when a disturbance is persistent, it can prompt doubt. These doubts are typically explored and amplified through metacognitive processes like meditation, dialogue and experimentation. This can have some positive outcomes such as learning, updating, reframing and neutrality. But it can come at a significant cost such as anxiety, time, resources and creation of conflict. When these costs become too much to carry, people seek to move beyond doubt in four ways: committing themselves to existing beliefs, forging new beliefs, being cynical about all beliefs or remaining sceptical. Each of these different responses has feedback loops and tends to create different types of organisations – dogmatic, sectarian, cynical and sceptical.
Keywords: Doubt, Organization Theory, Beliefs, Skepticism
JEL Classification: M10
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation