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Secrecy as Organizing Uncertainty in Creative Processes

Research Project of Prof. Dr. Jana Costas and Dr. Birke Otto

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In this project we explore the role of organizational secrecy – the intentional concealment of information from actors by actors in organizations – in organizing uncertainty in creative processes. Empirical evidence suggests that organizational secrecy is an important way of dealing with different kinds of uncertainty in highly innovative organizations: in top-secret research labs, orchestrated secrecy-based marketing campaigns, and the prevention of information leakage through secrecy to name but a few examples. However, this empirical prevalence of secrecy as one key organizing principle in creative processes runs counter to the findings of current management research, which largely tends to stress the importance of knowledge- and information-sharing for fostering creativity, thus framing secrecy as a problem for creativity. In contrast, this project seeks to advance organizational research by empirically studying actual practices of secrecy as an organizing mechanism. Based on in-depth, comparative case studies, the project will explicate how, why and when secrecy matters for creative processes in organizations.
The project is sponsored by the German Research Foundation and is part of the research group “Organized Creativity: Practices for Inducing and Coping with Uncertainty“ (FOR 2161).



Publications

Otto, B/ Kemmer, L & A Kühn (2021), ‘Standby as mode of organizing’, ephemera. Theory and politics of organization, 21(1).
Otto, B (2020) ‘The Power to Hide and The Power to Ignore’, Journal of Cultural Economies, doi.org/10.1080/17530350.2020.1861967.
Otto, B, Schüssler, E & K. Zangerle (2020) ‚Idea Greenhouses are made of glass. Tensions in Experimental Spaces for Creative Collaboration in Front-End Pharmaceutical Research’, in Montanari, F, Eikhof, D, Mattarelli, E & A Scapolan (eds): The collaborative turn. How collaborative spaces foster collaboration and creativity, Palgrave.
Otto, B. & A. Strauss (2019) ‘The novel as affective site: Uncertain work and impasse in ‚Wait until Spring, Bandini.’ Organization Studies, 40(12), 1805-1822
Otto, B. (2019) Book Review: The Conversational Firm: Rethinking Bureaucracy in the Age of Social Media. Organization, 135050841985572.
Otto, B., Pors, J. G., & Johnsen, R. (2019) ‘Hidden in Full View: The Organization of Public Secrecy in Miéville’s The City and the City.’ Culture and Organization, 25(2), 91-103.
Otto, B. (2018) ‘The generative properties of secrecy in idea development. A case study in pharmaceutical innovation.’ Organized Creativity Discussion Paper No. 18/3. Berlin: Free University Berlin.
Fan, Z., Costas, J. & C. Grey (2017) Secrecy and Communication: Towards a Research Agenda. Corporate Communications: An International Journal, 22 (4), 562-566.
Costas, J. & C. Grey (2016). Secrecy at Work: The Hidden Architecture of Organizational Life. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Costas, J. & C. Grey (2014) Bringing Secrecy into the Open: Towards a Theorization of the Social Processes of Organizational Secrecy. Organization Studies, 35 (10), 1423-1447.



Transfer Publications

Costas, J. (2018) What are you famous for? Beziehungswirtschaft. Creative.NRW (Ed.) Hidden Values - Die Währungen der Zukunft,
Conference and workshop presentations
Otto, B ‘Between Predictability and Creativity: The Role of Temporal (Dis-) Entrainment in Drug Development Processes’ 37th EGOS Colloquium, Virtual (Hamburg), July 2-5, 2020. (w. E. Schuessler, J. Sydow, L. Vogelgsang)
Otto, B ‘The generative properties of secrecy in idea generation’, Academy of Management Proceedings, Vol. 2019, No. 1.
Otto, B/ Costas, J ‘We did not pay any attention to them’: Practices of deliberate ignorance in creative processes. International Conference: Organizing Creativity in the Innovation Journey, Free University Berlin, July 11-12, 2019.
Otto, B/ Costas, J ‘We did not pay any attention to them’: Practices of deliberate ignorance in creative processes. 36th EGOS Colloquium, Edinburgh, July 3-6, 2019.
Otto, B ‘From value capture to value creation. Secrecy in idea development’, Spring school, Organized Creativity, Free University Berlin, March 12-15, 2019.
Otto, B ‘Modes of secrecy affecting creativity in innovation processes. Examples from the Danish Pharma Industry’. 4th Israel Organization Behaviour Conference (IOBC), Tel Aviv, Israel, January 2-4, 2018.
Otto, B ‘Unfolding secrecies in idea development: A case study in pharmaceutical innovation’, Interdisciplinary Perspective of Secrecy in Organizations. Oxford Brookes Business School, 2-3 July 2018.
Otto, B ‘Timing secrecy and surprise in idea generation’. 34th EGOS Colloquium, Copenhagen, Denmark, July 6-8, 2017.
Otto, B ‘Secrecy and Creativity: The Potential of Discretionary Spaces in Science-based Innovation’. 33rd EGOS Colloquium, Copenhagen, Denmark, July 6-8, 2017.



Workshop presentations and invited presentations

Otto, B & Pors, J (2019) ‘Embodied Ignorance’, Workshop on Organizational Ignorance, Norwegian Business School, August 25, 2019.
Otto, B (2018): Self-enforced group ignorance as mode of secrecy in idea generation, To be presented at Workshop: Ignorance, non-knowledge and non-discovery, University of Vienna, Austria, 14-15. November 2018.
Otto, B (2018): The role of secrecy in creative processes. Mosaic Summer School, Berlin, 3.7.2018.
Otto, B (2018): Unfolding secrecies in idea development: A case study in pharmaceutical innovation, Interdisciplinary Perspective of Secrecy in Organizations. Oxford Brookes Business School, 2nd-3rd July 2018.
Costas, J/ Otto, B. (2016): Secrecy at Work: The Hidden Architecture of Organizations, Invited Guest Lecturer at the Department of Management, Politics and Philosophy at Copenhagen Business School, 4.10.2016



Awards

Nomination for EGOS Book Award: Costas, J & Grey, C (2016): Secrecy at Work. The Hidden Architecture of Organizational Life. Stanford, CA: Stanford Business Books.



Organization of Conferences and Workshops

EGOS Subtheme 2021 Ignorance at Work (Birke Otto, Lena Olaison, Justine Pors)
Workshop The practices and politics of organized ignorance, in collaboration with ephemera and Copenhagen Business School, 30 Nov 2020, 13:20-17:30
EGOS Subtheme 2019 Shedding light on the dark sides of creativity and innovation (Elke Schüßler, Oliver Ibert, Birke Otto)
EGOS Subtheme 2017 Secrecy, Secrets and Organization (Jana Costas, Chris Grey)

Logo Secrecy ©Lena i.A. Jana Costas