“Nothing is sure in a sea fight” : A study of the improvisational act as a necessary way to answer crisis situations when being a manager

by Aklil, Bruno; Lalet, Benoit

Abstract (Summary)


To study how improvisation allows a crisis manager to answer the crisis when it has occurred, and how the improvisational act and the environment are linked.Methodology/ApproachFirst, we led research on the concepts of crisis, crisis management and improvisation. We were able to distinguish two major characteristics of the crisis situation – uncertainty and time pressure – as well as two moments in crisis response – containment and recovery. In parallel, we studied improvisation. The improvisation act intervenes when one realizes the environment conditions, reduces the gap between thinking the action and executing the action, and increases the speed of his actual action. Also, we identified that improvisation was expressed through the use of creativity, bricolage and intuition. At last, some authors developed levels of improvisation whether based on creativity levels or on the distance between the way one acts and the procedures, the normal ways to act. From this literature review, we were able to highlight two research propositions: Proposition 1: As soon as a situation enters a crisis phase, improvisation is used. Proposition 2: The way and the extent to improvise depend on the extent of time-pressure and uncertainty.Our belief in a mainly subjective conception of reality and of our knowledge and the fact we could use enough existing knowledge to enunciate propositions led us to have a semi-inductive research approach and a qualitative strategy. Our data were collected by using recorded semi-structured interviews. Our sample was constituted of managers specialized in the management of a crisis – surgeons and high mountain rescuers.


Our data analysis allowed us to confirm the research propositions. Crisis managers improvise when responding to a crisis by being creative, aware and adaptable to the environment conditions, and by having quick decision-making processes. Their improvisation levels are dependent on the situation uncertainty/novelty levels. In fact, we could identify a “mirror effect”: the level of improvisation increases as uncertainty increases.


Some points are factors of the limitation of this research. These limitations are essentially linked to a reduced transdisciplinary approach. The topic of this research deserves a larger sample of interviewees in order to improve the relevance of our findings and their capacity to be generalized.


The value of this study comes from the relevance of the investigated fields – fields with recurrent crisis management – and from the experience of their interviewed members. This research was also led with philosophical considerations materialized by a transdisciplinary approach. Indeed, we interviewed persons from fields outside business management.

Bibliographical Information:


School:Umeå universitet

School Location:Sweden

Source Type:Master's Thesis

Keywords:improvisation creativity crisis situation management response uncertainty time pressure business studies företagsekonomi


Date of Publication:01/01/2009

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