English   Danish

2020/2021  KAN-CCMVV2034U  Managing Uncertainty, Complexity and Paradox

English Title
Managing Uncertainty, Complexity and Paradox

Course information

Language English
Course ECTS 7.5 ECTS
Type Elective
Level Full Degree Master
Duration One Semester
Start time of the course Spring
Timetable Course schedule will be posted at calendar.cbs.dk
Max. participants 40
Study board
Study Board for MSc in Economics and Business Administration
Course coordinator
  • Syed Salman Ahmad - Department of Organization (IOA)
Main academic disciplines
  • Management
  • Business psychology
  • Economics
Teaching methods
  • Blended learning
Last updated on 31-08-2020

Relevant links

Learning objectives
After completing the course, the student is expected to be able to:
  • Describe and critically examine the various theoretical models around managing uncertainty, complexity and paradox.
  • Discuss the implications of uncertainty, complexity and paradox on individual and organizational decision making and how these impact financial decisions in particular.
  • Apply theoretical frameworks to analyze managerial and organizational challenges that emerge from uncertainty, complexity and paradox.
  • Plan possible solutions to effectively manage the challenges of uncertainty, complexity and paradox in real life case examples of managers and organizations.
  • Anticipate possible challenges in implementing planned solutions and be able to address these challenges in a paper.
Prerequisites for registering for the exam (activities during the teaching period)
Number of compulsory activities which must be approved (see s. 13 of the Programme Regulations): 2
Compulsory home assignments
The student must get 1 out of 2 activities approved in order to attend the
ordinary exam

1. Submission of a brief of paper or the idea for the final paper by a given date.
2. Presentation of the first draft of the final paper in class for peer and instructor feedback.

Students will not have extra opportunities to get the required number of compulsory activities approved prior to the ordinary exam. If a student has not received approval of the required number of compulsory activities or has been ill, the student cannot participate in the ordinary exam.
If a student prior to the retake is still missing approval for the required number of compulsory activities and meets the pre-conditions set out in the program regulations, an extra assignment is possible.

The extra assignment is a 10 page home assignment that will cover the required number of compulsory activities. If approved, the student will be able to attend retake.
Managing Uncertainty, Complexity and Paradox:
Exam ECTS 7,5
Examination form Home assignment - written product
Individual or group exam Individual exam
Size of written product Max. 15 pages
Assignment type Written assignment
Duration Written product to be submitted on specified date and time.
Grading scale 7-point grading scale
Examiner(s) One internal examiner
Exam period Spring
Make-up exam/re-exam
Same examination form as the ordinary exam
Same rules and instrctions apply as for the ordinary exam.
Description of the exam procedure

Students will choose one from the following two options:


1. Select their own case around managing uncertainty, complexity and paradox and present an analysis of the case in the light of course theory.


2. Start with a research question around uncertainty, complexity and paradox and attempt to answer it either through a deep, critical, theoretical review of literature or through an empirical work involving e.g., interviews, focus groups or surveys.


Course content, structure and pedagogical approach

In a world where managers and organizations are increasingly experiencing uncertainties in the work environment, where both individuals and organizations have to deal with an increasing amount of variables over which they have little control and where we are faced with competing demands that seem to be in conflict with each other, managing the variables of uncertainty, complexity and paradox has become quintessential for the survival and growth of both managers and organizations, be they in the private or public sector, be they start-ups or established conglomerates, and be they operating in ‘eastern’ or ‘western’ economies.


This course aims at delving deeper into the science behind navigating uncertainty, complexity and paradox and what it takes to manage these variables effectively to further individual and organizational resilience, effectiveness and growth. The course also aims to examine the role of ‘soft’ variables such as anxiety, insecurity and trust in economic decision making and in the management of uncertainty, complexity and paradox in organizations.


The course is designed to be at the cutting edge of economics and psychology and aims to draw upon multinational research in choice and decision making from various behavioural science disciplines and applying this specifically to managing uncertainty, complexity and paradox – across various organizational functions (e.g., production, supply chain, marketing, human resources etc.) and across various kinds of organizations (e.g., large multinationals, family businesses, social entrepreneurships, creative and cultural enterprises, health care services, banks, schools etc.).


Some of the questions that students will be encouraged to explore in this course, and which could form the subjects of their final papers would be:

  • How do organizations and managers deal with uncertainty?
  • What are the implications of varying levels of uncertainty to leadership and change management?
  • What are the psychological responses to uncertainty and how do these impact decision-making in general, and financial decisions in particular?
  • How does complexity (large number of interdependent variables) interact with uncertainty and how does that influence business decision making?
  • Do certain organizational designs deal better with uncertainty and complexity? And are these designs equally effective in doing so across various industries and kinds of organizations?
  • What are various dimensions of paradoxes (competing interdependent demands) that organizations frequently face in these times?
  • How do managers and organizations deal with paradoxes and are there more effective ways of dealing with these paradoxes?
  • What kind of leadership is needed in order to address the challenges of uncertainty, complexity and paradox?
  • What are the cultural differences in the way managers and organizations deal with uncertainty, complexity and paradox and what are the implications of these differences to management and leadership?
Description of the teaching methods
Interactive lectures, conversations, reflections, case studies and student presentations.
Feedback during the teaching period
Each student receives individual oral feedback on in-class presentations from peers and instructor on their paper ideas and progress. This will be synchronised throughout the course.

In addition, students get feedback from the instructor on ideas they may be having or challenges they may be facing with regards to their final papers.
Student workload
Classroom Time 33 hours
Class Preparation Time 101 hours
First Paper Draft 24 hours
Final Paper 48 hours
Expected literature

The following is an indicative list of literature that can serve as an introduction to the course:

On Managing Uncertainty:

  • Eisenhardt, K. M., & Brown, S. L. (1998). Competing on the edge: Strategy as structured chaos. Long Range Planning: International Journal Of Strategic Management, 31(5), 786-789.
  • Engdahl, R.A. (2005). Organization Evolution: The Natural Change Model for Organizational Structure in Changing Times. Organization Development Journal, Vol 23(2), pp. 50-61.
  • Friesl, M., Ford, C. J., & Mason, K. (2019). Managing technological uncertainty in science incubation: a prospective sensemaking perspective. R&D Management, 49(4), 668–683.
  • Hamill, H., Hampshire, K., Mariwah, S., Amoako-Sakyi, D., Kyei, A., & Castelli, M. (2019). Managing uncertainty in medicine quality in Ghana: The cognitive and affective basis of trust in a high-risk, low-regulation context. Social Science & Medicine, 234.
  • Khosravi, F., & Jha-Thakur, U. (2019). Managing uncertainties through scenario analysis in strategic environmental assessment. Journal of Environmental Planning & Management, 62(6), 979–1000.
  • Wu, L.-W., Wang, C.-Y., & Rouyer, E. (2020). The opportunity and challenge of trust and decision-making uncertainty: Managing co-production in value co-creation. International Journal of Bank Marketing, 38(1), 199–218.
  • Kira, M. & van Eijnatten, F.M. (2008). Socially sustainable work organizations: a chaordic systems approach. Systems Research & Behavioral Science, Vol. 25 (6), pp. 743-756.


On Managing Complexity:

  • Fernández Campos, P., Trucco, P., & Huaccho Huatuco, L. (2019). Managing structural and dynamic complexity in supply chains: insights from four case studies. Production Planning & Control, 30(8), 611–623.
  • Huang, L. (2018). The Role of Investor Gut Feel in Managing Complexity and Extreme Risk. Academy of Management Journal, 61(5), 1821–1847.
  • McPherson, C. M., & Sauder, M. (2013). Logics in Action: Managing Institutional Complexity in a Drug Court. Administrative Science Quarterly, 58(2), 165–196.
  • Milone, V., & Pizzi, S. (2019). Managing the Complexity through New Forms of Financial Reporting: A Multiple Case Study on Italian Public Museums. Administrative Sciences (2076-3387), 9(4), 95.
  • Schmitz, C., & Ganesan, S. (2014). Managing Customer and Organizational Complexity in Sales Organizations. Journal of Marketing, 78(6), 59–77.
  • Stergiopoulos, V., Saab, D., Francombe Pridham, K., Aery, A., & Nakhost, A. (2018). Building flexibility and managing complexity in community mental health: lessons learned in a large urban centre. BMC Psychiatry, 18, 1–9.
  • Törnblom, O. (2018). Managing complexity in organizations: Analyzing and discussing a managerial perspective on the nature of organizational leadership. Behavioral Development, 23(1), 51–62.


On Managing Paradox:

  • Ferdman, B. M. (2017). Paradoxes of inclusion: Understanding and managing the tensions of diversity and multiculturalism. Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 53(2), 235–263.
  • Hargrave, T. J., & Van de Ven, A. H. (2017). Integrating dialectical and paradox perspectives on managing contradictions in organizations. Organization Studies, 38(3–4), 319–339.
  • Huang, L.V. & Zhang, K. (2019). Engagement, Formality, and Visibility: Managing Paradoxes of Using Mobile Instant Messaging for Work. International Journal of Communication (19328036), 13, 1919–1938.
  • Ismail, A., & Johnson, B. (2019). Managing Organizational Paradoxes in Social Enterprises: Case Studies from the MENA Region. Voluntas: International Journal of Voluntary & Nonprofit Organizations, 30(3), 516–534.
  • Lim-Ratnam, C., Atencio, M., & Lee, C. K.-E. (2016). Managing the Paradox of Control: The Case of Ground-Up Implementation of Active Learning in Singapore’s Primary Schools. Educational Research for Policy and Practice, 15(3), 231–246.
  • Manzoni, B., & Caporarello, L. (2017). Managing Creative Firms by Adopting a Paradox Framework: The Case of Studio Libeskind. International Journal of Arts Management, 20(1), 54–62.
  • Smith, W. K. (2014). Dynamic Decision Making: A Model of Senior Leaders Managing Strategic Paradoxes. Academy of Management Journal, 57(6), 1592–1623.
  • Smith, W.K. & Lewis, M.W. (2011). Toward a Theory of Paradox: A Dynamic Equilibrium Model of Organizing. Academy of Management Review, Vol. 36 (2), pp. 381–403.
Last updated on 31-08-2020