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Chapter 1 - What Is Routine Dynamics?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 December 2021

Martha S. Feldman
University of California, Irvine
Brian T. Pentland
Michigan State University
Luciana D'Adderio
University of Edinburgh
Katharina Dittrich
University of Warwick
Claus Rerup
Frankfurt School of Finance and Management
David Seidl
University of Zurich


This chapter offers an introduction to Routine Dynamics as a particular approach to studying organizational phenomena. We provide a brief description of the genealogy of research on routines; starting with the work of the management scholar Fredrick Taylor (1911) and the pragmatist philosopher John Dewey (1922) at the beginning of the last century, to the works of the Carnegie School on standard operating procedures around the middle of the last century, to the economics-based Capabilities approach and finally the practice-based approach of Routine Dynamics around the turn of the century. We also discuss the advantages of conceptualizing patterns of action as “routines”, as compared to “practices”, “processes”, “activities” or “institutions”. In particular, we highlight that the concept of routines directs the researcher’s attention to certain specificities of particular action patterns, such as task orientation, sequentiality of actions, recurrence and familiarity as well as attempts at reflexive regulation. We also introduce and explain the key concepts of the Routine Dynamics perspective and how they have developed over time.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2021

1.1 Introduction

Over the last two decades, Routine Dynamics has emerged as an international research community that shares a particular approach to organizational phenomena. At the heart of this approach is an interest in examining the emergence, reproduction, replication, and change of recognizable patterns of actions. In contrast to other research communities interested in those phenomena, Routine Dynamics studies are informed by a distinctive set of theories (e.g., practice theory and related process-informed theories) that directs researchers’ attention to particular aspects of these phenomena (e.g., actions), yielding distinctive insights about them (e.g., routines are dynamic).

In this chapter, we offer an introduction to Routine Dynamics as a particular approach to studying organizational phenomena. For this purpose, we provide a brief description of the genealogy of research on routines; starting with the work of the management scholar Fredrick Taylor (Reference Taylor1911) and the pragmatist philosopher John Dewey (Reference Dewey1922) at the beginning of the last century, to the works of the Carnegie School on standard operating procedures around the middle of the last century, to the economics-based Capabilities approach and the practice-based approach of Routine Dynamics that emerged around the turn of the century. We also discuss the advantages of conceptualizing patterns of action as ‘routines’, as compared to ‘practices’, ‘processes’, ‘activities’ or ‘institutions’. In particular, we highlight that the concept of routines directs the researcher’s attention to certain features of action patterns, such as task orientation, sequentiality of actions, recurrence, and familiarity as well as attempts at reflexive regulation. We also introduce and explain the key concepts of the Routine Dynamics perspective and how they have developed over time. This chapter aims to provide the reader with a solid grasp of the Routine Dynamics approach as well with suggestions for further reading to deepen the understanding of particular aspects of this approach.

1.2 A Brief Genealogy of Research on Organizational Routines

To understand Routine Dynamics research, it is important to consider how research on routines has developed historically (see also Felin and Foss, Reference Felin and Foss2009; Mahringer, Reference Mahringer2019; Parmigiani and Howard-Grenville, Reference Parmigiani and Howard-Grenville2011). Situated in a particular historical context, various scholars have developed the concept in response to specific questions at the time. One of the first to explore the role of routines in organizations was Frederick Taylor. Even though he did not use the term ‘routine’ his book The Principles of Scientific Management, published in 1911, laid the foundations for the standardization of work and thus the use of routines as a means for managerial control, supervision, and efficiency. Taylor applied scientific methods to identify the ‘best’ way to complete a task and encouraged managers to provide instructions and supervision to ensure that workers are using the most efficient way of working. A few years later, Stene (Reference Stene1940: 1129), who was interested in collective coordination in organizations, explicitly referred to routines as ‘activities which ha[ve] become habitual because of repetition and which [are] followed regularly without specific directions or detailed supervision’.

In a different line of work, the concept of routines also appeared in the works of the pragmatist John Dewey (Reference Dewey1922) (more on pragmatism can be found in Dionysiou [Chapter 5], this volume). Dewey was primarily interested in learning, both at the individual and collective level, and developed the notion of habit as reflective action. Dewey (Reference Dewey1922) distinguished between intelligent habit and dead or mindless habit, highlighting that except for the pathological extreme (the dead routine), routines are lively, infused with emotions, reflection, and morality (Cohen, Reference Cohen2007; Winter, Reference Winter2013). Even though Dewey and others suggest using the term ‘routine’ only for the pathological extreme of a dead routine, Routine Dynamics has instead chosen to keep the term ‘routine’ and show how it is lively, dynamic, and only in rare circumstances dead or mindless.

Between the mid-forties and mid-sixties, a distinctive view, known as the Carnegie School, developed, primarily as an effort to overcome the limitations of classical economic theory that was dominant at the time (see also Rerup and Spencer [Chapter 33], this volume). Simon’s (Reference Simon1947) Administrative Behavior, March and Simon’s (Reference March and Simon1958) Organizations, and Cyert and March’s (Reference Cyert and March1963) Behavioral Theory of the Firm were all concerned with opening up the black-box of the firm and developing theory on how firms behave as a result of lower-level processes, such as routines (see also Gavetti, Greve, Levinthal, and Ocasio, Reference Gavetti, Greve, Levinthal and Ocasio2012). Simon (Reference Simon1947) was interested in decision-making of boundedly rational individuals and argued that routines, understood as simple rules, develop to save time and attention. March and Simon (Reference March and Simon1958) described routines as ‘performance programs’, that is, a fixed response to a defined stimulus that has been learned over time. Thus, in the case of a routine, search has been eliminated and choice simplified. In Cyert and March (Reference Cyert and March1963), reliable, stable standard operating procedures (SOPs) are important because they allow firms to cope with uncertainty and enable effective decision-making. Overall, being concerned with bounded rationality, the Carnegie School foregrounded the cognitive dimension of routines and their ability to stabilize, and conserve resources (see also Lazaric [Chapter 18], this volume).

Another important milestone in the development of routines research was Nelson and Winter’s (Reference Nelson and Winter1982) Evolutionary Theory of Economic Change. The authors drew on evolutionary economics and the framework of variation, selection, and retention to counter traditional neoclassical assumptions of how firms develop and change over time. Defining routines as ‘regular and predictable behavior patterns of firms’ (Nelson and Winter, Reference Nelson and Winter1982: 14), Nelson and Winter defined three roles for routines: (1) Routines as genes: here, routines determine which firms are selected by the environment and thus survive. (2) Routines as organizational memory: organizations store knowledge in routinized activities and thus ‘remember by doing’ (Nelson and Winter, Reference Nelson and Winter1982: 99). (3) Routines as truces: because of the diverging interests of organizational members, routines serve as comprehensive truces that prevent intraorganizational conflict in repetitive activities (see also D’Adderio and Safavi [Chapter 15], this volume). In addition to outlining the role of routines, Nelson and Winter also identified the importance of organizational capabilities, broadly defined as ‘the range of things a firm can do at any time’ (Nelson and Winter, Reference Nelson and Winter1982: 52). Capabilities are seen as bundles of routines that give rise to a firm’s competitive advantage (see also Salvato [Chapter 34], this volume).

Subsequently, two strands of research developed almost independently of each other: the Capabilities perspective and the Routine Dynamics perspective (Parmigiani and Howard-Grenville, Reference Parmigiani and Howard-Grenville2011). The Capabilities perspective, grounded in organizational economics and drawing heavily on the work of Nelson and Winter, was primarily interested in understanding how capabilities as bundles of routines relate to firm performance (Dosi, Faillo, and Marengo, Reference Dosi, Faillo and Marengo2008; Dosi, Nelson, and Winter, Reference Dosi, Nelson and Winter2000; Peng, Schroeder, and Shah, Reference Peng, Schroeder and Shah2008). Authors working within this perspective thus ‘black-boxed’ routines and assumed that individuals execute routines as designed. From this perspective, organizational change was explained by so-called dynamic capabilities, that is, meta-routines that change operating routines (Winter, Reference Winter2003).

In contrast, the Routine Dynamics perspective developed from an interest in what happens inside the routine. It ‘altered the grain size or granularity of analysis and moved the unit of analysis from the firm and the routines that constitute them to the routine and the actions that constitute them’ (Feldman, Reference Feldman, Howard-Grenville, Rerup, Langley and Tsoukas2016: 27). It also moved the focus away from formal procedures and cognition to the actions taken by specific people in specific times and places. By drawing on different methods, in particular ethnographic observations, interviews, and archival data (see also Dittrich [Chapter 8], this volume), Routine Dynamics scholars started to challenge received wisdom about routines. For example, Pentland and Rueter (Reference Pentland and Rueter1994) found that there was more variety in performing routines than previous research acknowledged. And Feldman (Reference Feldman2000) found that routines were sources of change over time – a finding that challenged the dominant view of routines as sources for stability and inertia.

In search of an alternative understanding of routines, one that accounts for human agency, variety, and change, scholars also started to draw on different theoretical resources. Even though the common saying is that Routine Dynamics is primarily informed by Giddens’ (Reference Giddens1984) structuration theory, in fact from the outset and in the ensuing years, the field has been influenced by a plethora of theories, a true latticework of ideas. For example, Martha Feldman (in Feldman and Orlikowski, Reference Feldman and Orlikowski2011), reflecting on her early studies in Routine Dynamics, describes how she drew on various theories of practice (e.g., Bourdieu, Reference Bourdieu1977; Reference Bourdieu1990; Bourdieu and Wacquant, Reference Bourdieu and Wacquant1992; Giddens, Reference Giddens1976; Reference Giddens1979; Reference Giddens1984; for more see Feldman [Chapter 2], this volume), on phenomenology (Schutz, Reference Schutz, Walsh and Lehnert1967; Reference Schutz and Zaner1970), on ethnomethodology (Garfinkel, Reference Garfinkel1967; see Lopez-Cotarelo [Chapter 4], this volume), and on actor-network theory (ANT) (Latour, Reference Latour and Law1986, Reference Latour2005; see Sele [Chapter 6], this volume) to theorize the findings from her fieldwork. All these theories are forms of process theorizing (Tsoukas [Chapter 3], this volume) that have enabled Routine Dynamics to shift towards a more processual focus of how routines are enacted and change over time. Subsequently, Routine Dynamics scholars also drew on pragmatism (Dionysiou [Chapter 5], this volume) and socio-materiality (D’Adderio [Chapter 7], this volume) to theorize the dynamics of routines.

This latticework or ‘stew’ (Feldman and Orlikowski, Reference Feldman and Orlikowski2011: 1244) of ideas is important because the blending and mixing together of ideas produces new ways of thinking about routines. Often, different theories have more in common than we think, but in order to draw on them and combine them in generative ways, one needs to be familiar with them. Many works of Routine Dynamics can be understood in a deeper and more interesting way if understood with these theories in the background. We hope that the chapters contained in the first part of this Handbook provide the theoretical toolkit to better understand Routine Dynamics.

The new way of theorizing routines based on this latticework has shifted the focus from routines as ‘entities’ in early works to routines as being constituted of parts, that is, the ostensive and performative aspects of routines (Feldman and Pentland, Reference Feldman and Pentland2003). It has also shifted the emphasis from routines as inherently static to routines as generative and dynamic (Howard-Grenville and Rerup, Reference Howard-Grenville, Rerup, Langley and Tsoukas2017; Parmigiani and Howard-Grenville, Reference Parmigiani and Howard-Grenville2011). Theorizing the dynamic aspects of routines has helped to see that stability and change in routines are not opposites but that in fact they are mutually constituted (Farjoun, Reference Farjoun2010; Tsoukas and Chia, Reference Tsoukas and Chia2002). This relation is captured in the ‘paradox of the (n)ever-changing world’ (Birnholtz, Cohen and Hoch, Reference Birnholtz, Cohen and Hoch2007: 316), that is, the assumptions that ‘one does not step into the same river twice’ and that ‘there is no new thing under the sun’ can coexist in routines. Routine dynamics has been progressively moving towards ‘stronger process theorizing’, and further progress has been achieved through the rhetorical shift from ostensive and performative to ‘performing’ and ‘patterning’ – or in other words ‘the doing involved in the creating of both performative and ostensive aspects’ (Feldman Reference Feldman, Howard-Grenville, Rerup, Langley and Tsoukas2016: 39).

Overall, the conceptual development in research on routines over the last one hundred years has led to significant changes in the way we use the term ‘routine’. In common language, the term ‘routine’ is primarily used as an adjective to describe the ordinary/mundane and the automatic/mindless and repetitious character of something. In the Carnegie School and evolutionary theory that sees routines as ‘fixed things’, the adjective and the noun ‘routine’ were the same thing, i.e., the automatic, mindless execution of a task. With Routine Dynamics, we moved ‘beyond routines as things’ (Feldman et al., Reference Feldman, Howard-Grenville, Rerup, Langley and Tsoukas2016: 505). While we still use nouns to refer to routines, these nouns are no longer the same as the adjective ‘routine’ because we see routines as dynamic and generative. With an even stronger processual orientation, we are now moving from the noun to the verb, that is, from ‘routines’ to ‘patterning’ and ‘performing’ (the verb ‘routinizing’, however, is not what we mean here because ‘routinizing’ typically refers to managerial efforts to turn patterns of action into formalized, standardized, controllable and stable procedures). These changes in how the term ‘routine’ is used can be confusing at first, but once clarified this language can become very generative for understanding organizational phenomena. Before we discuss in more depth the key terminology used in Routine Dynamics research, we first turn to why it can be useful to call an empirical phenomenon a ‘routine’.

1.3 What Is to Be Gained from Conceptualizing an Empirical Phenomenon as a ‘Routine’?

Routine Dynamics scholars are not the only ones to examine recurrent patterns of interdependent actions (Parmigiani and Howard-Grenville, Reference Parmigiani and Howard-Grenville2011). There are many other research communities who take an interest in action patterns, but they capture them with other concepts. For example, many practice scholars conceptualize action patterns as ‘practices’, such as when Reckwitz (Reference Reckwitz2002: 249) defines practices as ‘a routinized type of behaviour which consists of several elements, interconnected to one other: forms of bodily activities, forms of mental activities, “things” and their use, a background knowledge in the form of understanding, know-how, states of emotion and motivational knowledge’. Similarly Rasche and Chia (Reference Rasche and Chia2009: 721) highlight that practices ‘are first of all an observed patterned consistency of bodily activities; coherent clusters of activities that are condensed through repetition’. In business process management, such activity patterns are referred to as ‘processes’ (Weske, Reference Weske2019). Benner and Tushman (Reference Benner and Tushman2003: 240), for example, define processes as ‘collections of activities that, taken together, produce outputs for customers’. Scholars concerned with activity systems conceptualize these action patterns as ‘activities’, where an activity is defined as ‘a discrete economic process within the firm, such as delivering finished products to customers or training employees, that can be configured in a variety of ways’ (Porter and Siggelkow, Reference Porter and Siggelkow2008: 34). Many institutional scholars, in turn, conceptualize these patterns as ‘institutions’; highlighting that ‘there is, and has been, a general understanding that institutions are … patterns of action (behavior)’ (Mayhew, Reference Mayhew, Davis and Dolfsma2008: 28) and defining institutions as ‘stable, valued, recurring patterns of behavior’ (Huntington, Reference Huntington1968: 9).

While it might seem irrelevant whether we label such action patterns ‘routines’, ‘practices’, ‘processes’, ‘activities’, ‘institutions’ or whatever else, these labels tend to be associated with different theoretical perspectives, which direct the researcher’s attention to particular aspects of these patterns and away from others. This begs the question of what can be gained from studying action patterns as routines. This question is particularly acute when it comes to the concepts of routines and practices, as Routine Dynamics is explicitly based on a practice perspective (Feldman and Pentland, Reference Feldman and Pentland2003).

The relation between the concept of routines and that of practices is somewhat complex, which has something to do with the fact that the concept of practices is defined differently in different practice theories. Most practice theorists, such as Giddens (Reference Giddens1984) or Reckwitz (Reference Reckwitz2002), would probably concur that ‘while not all practices are routines, all routines are practices’ (Feldman [Chapter 2], this volume). For example, the hiring routine can be considered a practice, while the practice of a handshake or gift-giving would not be considered a routine. Thus, from this perspective, routines are conceptualized as a sub-category of practices. Other practice theorists, such as Schatzki (Reference Schatzki2002), would at least agree that routines are an important element of practices, that is, they are a part of larger practices. In line with both interpretations, the Routine Dynamics perspective can be described as a practice perspective that sensitizes the researcher to certain specificities of particular action patterns; analogously to the way that organization theories tend to sensitize researchers better to the particularities of organizations than general social theories.

One aspect that characterizes routines as particular practices is the fact that routines are ostensibly directed at the accomplishment of particular tasks – even though routines do not always accomplish these tasks and not everyone involved in these routines necessarily wants the task accomplished. As Feldman (Reference Feldman, Howard-Grenville, Rerup, Langley and Tsoukas2016: 24) writes, ‘organizational routines are enacted in order to do something in and for the organization’. For example, a hiring routine (Feldman, Reference Feldman2000; Rerup and Feldman, Reference Rerup and Feldman2011) is directed at the task of hiring someone, a pricing routine (Zbaracki and Bergen, Reference Zbaracki and Bergen2010) is directed at setting prices, a garbage collection routine (Turner and Rindova, Reference Turner and Rindova2012) is directed at the task of collecting garbage, a shipping routine (Dittrich et al., Reference Dittrich, Guérard and Seidl2016) is directed at shipping something or a roadmapping routine (Howard-Grenville, Reference Howard-Grenville2005) is directed at developing and reviewing a roadmap. Because of this task orientation, routines are often associated with organizations or work contexts – i.e., accomplishing some subtasks of the organization. In contrast, some practices might lack a clear focus on specific tasks. For example, the practice of marriage (Whittington, Reference Whittington2007) is not directed at the accomplishment of a particular task; instead, practising the marriage is a purpose in itself. Similarly, the practice of horse betting (Schatzki, Reference Schatzki2010) is not oriented at accomplishing a task which could then be measured as having been accomplished well or not. Thus, taking a routine lens directs the researcher’s attention to the way that these tasks are accomplished and how orientation to the tasks affects the way the routines are enacted.

A second aspect that characterizes routines as particular practices is the significance of the particular sequences in which actions are performed (see Mahringer and Pentland [Chapter 12], this volume). Some practice theorists such as Schatzki (Reference Schatzki2002: 2017) stress that the concept of practice does not focus on particular action sequences. As he writes, ’he doings and sayings that compose a practice need not be regular’ (Schatzki, Reference Schatzki2002: 73–74). The regular action sequences described by routines are then just a particular type of practice or even just an element of practices. For example, the practice of medicine can be said to contain many routines, such as particular treatment routines, diagnostic routines (Goh et al., Reference Goh, Gao and Agarwal2011) or handoff routines (LeBaron et al., Reference LeBaron, Christianson, Garrett and Ilan2016), but as a whole this practice cannot be described as a regular sequence of actions. Thus, taking a routines lens directs the researcher’s attention to the different patterns of action sequences and their variations, which can be described and visualized in the form of narrative networks (see Pentland and Kim [Chapter 13], this volume). In line with the emphasis on sequences of actions and how patterns of actions evolve over time, studies of Routine Dynamics are also process studies (Feldman, Reference Feldman, Howard-Grenville, Rerup, Langley and Tsoukas2016; Howard-Grenville and Rerup, Reference Howard-Grenville, Rerup, Langley and Tsoukas2017).

A third aspect that characterizes routines as particular practices is the recurrent nature of the action pattern which results in some kind of familiarity with the routine. One would typically not speak of an organizational routine if an action pattern was just enacted once in the organization. This familiarity has important implications for the enactment of routines as the participants’ earlier experiences with the routine provide them with particular competence and points of reference for the enactment (Birnholtz et al., Reference Birnholtz, Cohen and Hoch2007; Deken et al., Reference Deken, Carlile, Berends and Lauche2016; Turner and Fern, Reference Turner and Fern2012). In contrast, some practices, while recurring in wider society, might be enacted just once in the immediate context and thus be entirely novel to all participants. To be sure, this difference is just a matter of degree as all practices presuppose at least some rudimentary familiarity with the practice. Thus, by highlighting this repetitiveness and familiarity, a routine lens directs the researcher’s attention to the participants’ experiences with earlier enactments of the action pattern and how this affects future routine enactments.

A fourth aspect characterizing routines as particular practices are attempts at their reflective regulation. Because routines are directed at accomplishing particular tasks and tend to be repetitively enacted, we often find explicit attempts at ‘managing’ the action sequences of which the routines are made. We often find standard operating procedures or if-then statements providing instructions for the way routines are supposed to be enacted (Cyert and March, Reference Cyert and March1963). Managers and employees often also try to adapt routines (e.g., Salvato, Reference Salvato2009; Salvato and Rerup, Reference Salvato and Rerup2018), design artifacts to change routines (e.g., Glaser, Reference Glaser2017; Pentland and Feldman, Reference Pentland and Feldman2008) or switch between routines as a way of influencing the outcomes produced by those routines. In contrast, there are many practices where such attempts at reflective regulation would appear somewhat at odds. Practices such as marriage or dining are just taken for granted and attempts at reflectively regulating these practices would be rather unusual – even though not entirely impossible. Thus, taking a routines lens directs the researcher’s attention to the role that explicit attempts at managing or influencing routines through artifacts, such as standard operating procedures or explicit rules, have on the enactment of routines as well as the co-evolution between those artifacts and actual routine performances.

1.4 Key Concepts of Routine Dynamics

In this section we review some of the key concepts used in Routine Dynamics, focusing on their origins and evolution over time. Many of the concepts were imported into Routine Dynamics from neighbouring theories, at times being reproduced faithfully, and at other times being modified or reinvented. We note that the vocabulary has grown substantially over time (we have a garden with old and new flowers) coming to form today an expressive, evolving language. One clear trend has been the progressive move towards a more deeply processual and performative language. This has allowed us to reveal the dynamics of routines and successively unravel the forces within Routine Dynamics. Next, we review some of the most common meanings that people in Routine Dynamics associate with this language.

Despite having identified some distinct trends in the Routine Dynamics vocabulary, we also acknowledge that part of the success behind the topic has been the lightness and flexibility with which we have so far held our terminology. It is true that there are some meanings that have more or less stabilized and gathered substantial consensus, as described in the previous section and in Feldman et al. (Reference Feldman, Howard-Grenville, Rerup, Langley and Tsoukas2016). At the same time, we are aware that there may be terms that change more rapidly or substantially and terms that extend, challenge or perhaps even replace established terminology. After two decades, the field may be stabilizing but it also remains open, both to retaining established meanings and interpretations and towards developing new vocabularies. In these changes we are guided by our questions and the world we explore.

In the following we discuss several terms that have grown to have specific meanings within Routine Dynamics and concepts that readers not already immersed in Routine Dynamics or related communities (like practice theory or relational sociology) might find confusing. While we describe these concepts here, they are best understood through the many detailed empirical accounts of Routine Dynamics where these concepts come to life. Moreover, there are many other concepts that are important to Routine Dynamics and used in Routine Dynamics studies that we do not discuss here. Temporality is a good example. Though clearly important to our understanding of routines and to the development of Routine Dynamics (see Turner and Rindova [Chapter 19], this volume), the Routine Dynamics community draws on ways of talking about time that one would readily understand without having read other Routine Dynamics studies.

1.4.1 Effortful and Emergent Accomplishments

That routines are both effortful and emergent has become a cornerstone of Routine Dynamics, in contrast with earlier understandings of routines as automatic or executed without explicit deliberation or effort (March and Simon Reference March and Simon1958; Nelson and Winter Reference Nelson and Winter1982). Citing Giddens (who refers to both Goffman and Garfinkel), Pentland and Reuter note that ‘routinized social activity is not mindless or automatic but, rather, an effortful accomplishment’ and that ‘[e]ven some of the most routinized kinds of encounters, such as fast food service (Leidner, Reference Leidner1993) and buying stamps (Ventola, Reference Ventola1987), exhibit a considerable amount of variety and require effort on the part of the participants to accomplish successfully’ (1994: 488). Picking up on the notion of effort, Feldman identified several kinds of effort that people make in the process of repeating routines,

When actions do not produce the intended outcome, or produce an unintended and undesirable outcome, participants can respond by repairing the routine so that it will produce the intended and desired outcome. The result may be to restore the routine to a stable equilibrium and may not be associated with continued change. When the outcomes enable new opportunities, participants have the option of expanding. They can change the routine to take advantage of the new possibilities. Finally, when outcomes fall short of ideals, they can respond by striving.

(Feldman, Reference Feldman2000: 620)

In identifying these types of effort, it also became clear that ‘work practices such as organizational routines are not only effortful but also emergent accomplishments. They are often works in progress rather than finished products’ (Feldman, Reference Feldman2000: 613). As a result, new patterns of action (change) may emerge through the gradual accretion of actions required to reproduce the same (i.e., stable) pattern of action. While expanding and striving are particularly oriented to change, even repairing may result in the emergence of new ways of accomplishing goals or tasks. Numerous studies in Routine Dynamics show that repetition and replication are not straightforward. Repetition introduces opportunities for changes that overcome minor or temporary obstacles but also introduces opportunities to do the routine differently or better. The result may be more or less effective communication (Bucher and Langley, Reference Bucher and Langley2016; LeBaron et al., Reference LeBaron, Christianson, Garrett and Ilan2016); better or worse products (Cohendet and Simon, Reference Cohendet and Simon2016; Deken et al., Reference Deken, Carlile, Berends and Lauche2016; Sele and Grand, Reference Sele and Grand2016); or more or less efficient processes (for better or worse) (Aroles and McClean, Reference Aroles and McLean2016; Eberhard et al., Reference Eberhard, Frost, Rerup, Feldman, D’Adderio, Jarzabkowski and Dittrich2019; Turner and Rindova, Reference Turner and Rindova2012).

The distinction between effortful and emergent can be used to orient us to the difference between variance in performance and change in practices and their results. In that case, effortful accomplishments often refer to variations in performance in order to do the same thing or produce stability, whereas emergent accomplishment refers to the effort involved in doing something different or producing change in routines or outcomes (Feldman et al., Reference Feldman, Howard-Grenville, Rerup, Langley and Tsoukas2016). But this distinction is also often one that is in the eyes of the beholder. As Deken et al. (Reference Deken, Carlile, Berends and Lauche2016) showed in their study of three different kinds of ‘routine work’, what feels like a small change to one person may feel like a lot of change to another person. In practice, effortful and emergent accomplishments are entangled.

1.4.2 Performative and Ostensive Aspects and the Shift to Performing and Patterning

Another important set of concepts is the idea of performative and ostensive aspects. Compared to effortful and emergent accomplishments these concepts are less intuitive. The ostensive/performative distinction was initially introduced to the study of routines as a way of distinguishing an emic and etic orientation,

Latour uses these terms in describing power, but the concepts apply as well to routines. An ostensive definition of a concept is one that exists in principle (Sevon Reference Sevon, Czarniawska and Sevon1996). It is created through the process of objectification as it is studied. A performative definition is one that is created through practice. ‘Society is not the referent of an ostensive definition discovered by social scientists despite the ignorance of their informants. Rather it is performed through everyone’s efforts to define it’ (Latour Reference Latour and Law1986, p. 273).

(Feldman, Reference Feldman2000: 622)

In this use – as in Latour’s use – ostensive and performative are separable and there can be performative routines and ostensive routines. ‘Ostensive routines may be devoid of active thinking, but routines enacted by people in organizations inevitably involve a range of actions, behaviors, thinking, and feeling’ (Feldman, Reference Feldman2000: 622).

In Feldman and Pentland (Reference Feldman and Pentland2003), these terms were repurposed and integrated more completely with practice theory.

We adopt language proposed by Latour (Reference Latour and Law1986) in his analysis of power, in which he pointed out that power exists both in principle and in practice. He referred to the former as the ostensive aspect of power and the latter as the performative aspect. We propose that organizational routines also consist of ostensive and performative aspects, which are closely related to the concepts of structure and agency, as found in structuration theory (Giddens, Reference Giddens1984). We adopt specialized terminology because, in the domain of organizational routines, structure and agency are mediated by the repetitive collective, interdependent nature of the phenomenon.

(Feldman and Pentland, Reference Feldman and Pentland2003: 100)

The two terms were defined in the following way,

The ostensive aspect is the ideal or schematic form of a routine. It is the abstract, generalized idea of the routine, or the routine in principle. The performative aspect of the routine consists of specific actions, by specific people, in specific places and times. It is the routine in practice. Both of these aspects are necessary for an organizational routine to exist.

(Feldman and Pentland, Reference Feldman and Pentland2003: 101)

That both aspects are necessary for an organizational routine to exist was an important statement that further moved the field by placing performative and ostensive aspects in a mutually constitutive relation to one another. ‘[W]e have emphasized that the ostensive and performative aspects of routines are mutually necessary. Without the ostensive aspect, we cannot name or even see our patterns of activity, much less reproduce them. Without the performative, nothing ever happens’ (Feldman and Pentland, Reference Feldman and Pentland2003: 115). Indeed, Feldman and Pentland (Reference Feldman and Pentland2003) connected the ostensive and performative not only to the duality of agency and structure highlighted by Giddens but also to the duality of subjective and objective emphasized in Bourdieu’s work,

The ostensive aspect of a routine enables us to create an apparently objective reality through the subjective acts of guiding, accounting, and referring. As practiced objective and subjective dimensions are mutually constitutive (Bourdieu, Reference Bourdieu1990). Objective and subjective aspects are inseparable because the objectified summaries of routines (the artifacts) are constructed from our subjective perceptions of them. Thus, ironically, routines exist as objects because of our subjective understandings of them. In a sense, our subjective understanding and interpretation is the glue that binds the actions into the patterns we recognize as the routine.

(Feldman and Pentland, Reference Feldman and Pentland2003: 109)

The emphasis in Routine Dynamics on both performative and ostensive aspects constitutes departures from previous ways of thinking about routines. First, an insistence on the performative aspect – on identifying specific actions in specific times and places – is a discipline that marks the empirical work in Routine Dynamics. Rather than describing dynamics in abstract terms, this discipline goes to the root of the organizational dynamics and enables scholars to see what others have missed. This discipline is very much influenced by the focus in actor-network theory on tracing actions and actants.

Second, as Feldman (Reference Feldman, Howard-Grenville, Rerup, Langley and Tsoukas2016: 27) writes, ‘the introduction of the term “ostensive” drew attention to the relationality of performances and patterns and the constitutive nature of action in patterns. Similar to Wittgenstein’s use of the term (Reference Wittgenstein and Anscombe2001), ostensive implies that patterns are constituted of specific instances that can be pointed to as a referent.’ Take, for instance, the example of the pattern that makes up our everyday experience of a colour. ‘While there is a scientific definition of blue (for example, a range of light wavelengths), on an everyday basis we know the color blue through the various blues (or objects coloured blue) that exemplify blue. In other words, there are things we can point to that make up the pattern that we recognize as blue’ (Feldman, Reference Feldman, Golsorkhi, Rouleau, Seidl and Vaara2015: 321). Routine Dynamics makes a similar argument about performances and their associated patterns. Ostensive aspects of routines are always made up of performances that we can point to.

Latour has argued that the problem with ostensive definitions is that they become imbued with independence and mistaken as a cause of action – people mistake ‘what is glued for the glue’ (Latour, Reference Latour and Law1986: 276). The way Routine Dynamics has used the ostensive aspect militates against this mistake. While the ostensive aspect refers to the abstract patterns of routines, it is relationally entangled with performance. This allows Routine Dynamics to acknowledge the importance of abstract patterns without giving them priority over the actions that are integral to them. The notion of ostensive aspects that are enacted patterns, produced through action, moves Routine Dynamics away from a focus on patterns that are envisioned, intended or mandated.

As empirical work in Routine Dynamics gave meaning to the performative and ostensive aspects of routines by identifying the specific actions taken by specific people at specific times and places and the enacted patterns that emerged as a result of these specific actions, the processual ontology of routines also developed. For instance, in Reference D’Adderio2014, D’Adderio identified the effortful (Pentland and Rueter, Reference Pentland and Rueter1994) and emergent (Feldman, Reference Feldman2000) ‘“patterning work” that is involved in the constantly challenged and never fully achieved (Tsoukas and Chia, Reference Tsoukas and Chia2002) pursuit of balance between competing goals’ (1346). Danner-Schröder and Geiger (Reference Danner-Schröder and Geiger2016) draw on this idea of patterning work to ‘understand the mechanisms that routine participants enact to create and recreate patterns, which they recognize as stable or changing’ (656). Goh and Pentland (Reference Goh and Pentland2019) ‘conceptualize patterning as the formation of new paths and the dissolution of old paths in a narrative network (Pentland and Feldman, Reference Pentland and Feldman2007) that describes a routine, (1901). There are different ways in which these patterns are created. For example, Turner and Rindova (Reference Turner and Rindova2018) describe how time organizes patterning.

Feldman (Reference Feldman, Howard-Grenville, Rerup, Langley and Tsoukas2016) suggested performing and patterning as alternatives to the performative and ostensive aspects as a way to make action more focal in our study of routines, and particularly to emphasize the active nature of creating patterns. Routine Dynamics now offers both a weaker process ontology, based on the idea that routines consist of performative and ostensive aspects, and a stronger process ontology, based on the idea that routines are enacted through performing and patterning. The difference between the strong and weak process ontology has been defined by process theorists as ‘different ontologies of the social world: one a world made of things in which processes represent change in things (grounded in a substantive metaphysics) and the other a world of processes, in which things are reifications of processes (Tsoukas and Chia, Reference Tsoukas and Chia2002) (grounded in process metaphysics)’ (Langley et al., Reference Langley, Smallman, Tsoukas and Ven2013: 4). Thus, ‘according to a weak view, processes form part of the world under consideration, according to a strong view the world is process’ (Hernes, Reference Hernes2008: 23).

1.4.3 Situated Action

The idea of situated action originated in anthropology/information systems (Suchman Reference Suchman2007; Lave, Reference Lave1988) and acquired meaning in Suchman’s distinction between ‘plans’ and ‘situated action’.

That term underscores the view that every course of action depends in essential ways on its material and social circumstances. Rather than attempt to abstract action away from its circumstances and represent it as a rational plan, the approach is to study how people use their circumstances to achieve intelligent action. Rather than build a theory of action out of a theory of plans, the aim is to investigate how people produce and find evidence for plans in the course of situated action. More generally, rather than subsume the details of action under the study of plans, plans are subsumed by the larger problem of situated action.

(Suchman, Reference Suchman2007: 70)

One of the ways that the situated nature of action has informed Routine Dynamics is through the idea that practical consciousness (Giddens, Reference Giddens1984) or practical sense (Bourdieu, Reference Bourdieu1990; Boudieu and Wacquant, Reference Bourdieu and Wacquant1992) is important to how people enact routines because the actions required are too varied for rules to be able to determine action (Feldman and Pentland, Reference Feldman and Pentland2003; Pentland and Feldman, Reference Pentland and Feldman2005; Pentland and Reuter, Reference Pentland and Rueter1994; Reynaud Reference Reynaud2005). Suchman’s (Reference Suchman1983) study of filing in triplicate provided an early example of how an apparently simple routine with a sequence of seven clearly defined steps quickly becomes complicated when enacted in the real world. The routine participants have to draw on their practical sense to ensure that, in the end, it will look as if the sequence had been followed. The situated nature of action is thus twofold: actions are situated in specific material and social circumstances and they are situated in patterns (here, the pattern of filing in triplicate).

The development of a hiring routine in a Danish research lab provides a more complex example of situated action. The university that was the bureaucratic home for the research lab articulated rules for hiring, but the lab directors took action (based on their practical sense) to work around the rules so that they would be able to hire the kind of people they needed to realize the goals of the lab. As a result, actions taken in the hiring routine were situated in two different patterns: hiring in a university bureaucracy and hiring for a research lab. Although research on boundary objects has shown that it is possible to have action that is situated in different contexts and has different meanings in each of these contexts (Carlile, Reference Carlile2002; Star and Griesemer, Reference Star and Griesemer1989), in this particular case the effort to produce actions that were acceptable in both contexts ultimately provoked change in how the lab directors envisioned the work of the lab (Rerup and Feldman, Reference Rerup and Feldman2011).

When Routine Dynamics scholars studied the situated nature of actions, they also noticed how the patterns of routines are themselves situated in a context. Howard-Grenville (Reference Howard-Grenville2005) theorized the situatedness of routines as ‘embeddedness’ in a variety of structures (e.g., technology, coordination and culture). Embeddedness originally assumed that the context is separable from, though important to, the routine. An alternative way of theorizing the relation between situation and routine is to see them as inseparable and entangled. In this view, routines are ‘enacted through’ their situated socio-material context (D’Adderio Reference D’Adderio2014; Feldman et al., Reference Feldman, Howard-Grenville, Rerup, Langley and Tsoukas2016; see also D’Adderio [Chapter 7], this volume). The latter definition highlights the constant entanglement and mutual shaping of routines and their context (see also Howard-Grenville and Lodge [Chapter 16], this volume).

1.4.4 Artifacts and Materiality

In reaction to a long-standing and persistent confusion in the study of routines that identified routines with artifacts, i.e., the written procedures or standard operating procedures (SOPs) describing routines, Pentland and Feldman initially described artifacts as important but exogenous to the generative system (Pentland and Feldman, Reference Pentland and Feldman2005). This move allowed the focus to shift to actions and patterns (performative and ostensive aspects of routines). It, unfortunately, also gave some the impression that actions could be enacted and patterns could emerge without artifacts. This impression was rectified through later work. D’Adderio (Reference D’Adderio2011) moved artifacts into the generative system, where they have remained. D’Adderio and other scholars have continued to develop our understanding of the centrality of artifacts, and materiality in general, through numerous empirical studies (Aroles and McLean, Reference Aroles and McLean2016; Boe-Lillegraven, Reference Boe-Lillegraven, Feldman, D’Adderio, Jarzabkowski and Dittrich2019; Cohendet and Simon, Reference Cohendet and Simon2016; D’Adderio, Reference D’Adderio2014; D’Adderio and Pollock, Reference D’Adderio and Pollock2020; Glaser, Reference Glaser2017; Kiwan and Lazaric, Reference Kiwan, Lazaric, Feldman, D’Adderio, Jarzabkowski and Dittrich2019; Sele and Grand, Reference Sele and Grand2016).

This work shows how, for instance, routines ‘change dynamically as they are enacted through specific configurations of artifacts and communities which shape ostensive and action patterns leading to varying outcomes (i.e., alignment or improvement, replication or innovation)’ (D’Adderio, Reference D’Adderio2014: 1347). The heterogeneous configurations shaping routines are referred to as socio-technical agencements (Callon, Reference Callon and Callon1998; D’Adderio, Reference D’Adderio2008) or socio-material assemblages (D’Adderio, Reference D’Adderio2008; Orlikowski and Scott, Reference Orlikowski and Scott2008; Suchman, Reference Suchman2007). These are agentic arrangements which include a plethora of socio-material features (texts, bodies, objects, values, etc.) whose properties are always emergent. Assemblages are ‘arrangements endowed with the capacity to act in different ways, depending on their configuration’ (Callon and Çalışkan, Reference Callon and Caliskan2010: 9), and different assemblage configurations bear different effects over routines. Thus for an SOP or rule to have an effect on performances, it has to generate an assemblage (including actors’ intentions, emotions and actions, digital and physical artifacts, etc.), which together supports the assumptions, views and goals embedded in the SOP at design and/or usage stage. This suggests that the effect of a rule or SOP can only theoretically be ‘fully descriptive (a passive, fixed representation of the actual [routine]) or fully prescriptive (univocally ordering and structuring the [routine], mostly they are performed’ (D’Adderio, Reference D’Adderio2008: 786), meaning that they configure routines to various extents (e.g., weak vs. strong performativity). The notion of assemblage helps us move beyond the unhelpful ontological separation between actors and artifacts, physical and material, objects and subjects, solid and fluid, while also helping us theorize how emergent, heterogeneous socio-material configurations shape routines as they are performed within and across organizational locations, and over time (Blanche and Cohendet, Reference Blanche, Cohendet, Feldman, D’Adderio, Jarzabkowski and Dittrich2019; D’Adderio, Reference D’Adderio2014; D’Adderio and Pollock, Reference D’Adderio and Pollock2020).

This novel approach afforded by combining Routine Dynamics with ANT/STS (Science-and-Technology Studies)/Performativity Theory-related sensitivities has allowed us to shed new light on long-standing debates, including innovation, replication, truces and dynamic capabilities. As a result of its substantial potential to provide new insights into routines and organizations, the concept of materiality has been and continues to be central to the study of routine dynamics (see D’Adderio [Chapter 7], this volume). Detailed discussion of materiality, including the related concepts of artifacts, assemblage, performativity, affordance and inscription, is included in the Handbook chapters by D’Adderio on materiality (Chapter 7), by Sele on actor-network theory (Chapter 6), by Wegener and Glaser (Chapter 22) on design and by Glaser et al. on algorithms (Chapter 23).

1.4.5 Relationality

The concept of relationality goes beyond simply attention to relationships (whether relationships of people or things or people and things) and is in contrast to an orientation to substances or entities. In a relational framework, the ‘dynamic, unfolding process, becomes the primary unit of analysis rather than the constituent elements themselves. Things are not assumed as independent existences present anterior to any relation, but … gain their whole being … first in and with the relations which are predicated of them’ (Emirbayer, Reference Emirbayer1997: 287). In his Manifesto for a Relational Sociology, Emirbayer quoted Somers and Gibson (Reference Somers, Gibson and Calhoun1994) to make a distinction between ‘a social identity or categorical approach’ that ‘presumes internally stable concepts’ versus a [relational, transactional] approach’ that ‘embeds the actor within relationships and stories that shift over time and space and thus precludes categorical stability in action’ (1997: 286).

Routine Dynamics is fundamentally about going ‘beyond routines as things’ to understanding that routines are ongoing, unfolding processes. An analogy may be useful. We have tended to turn routines into things in much the same way that we speak of the wind as a thing. ‘We say, “The wind is blowing,” as if the wind were actually a thing at rest which, at a given point in time, begins to move and blow. We speak as if a wind could exist which did not blow’ (Elias, Reference Elias1978: 111–112, cited in Emirbayer, Reference Emirbayer1997: 283). Similarly, when we imagine that a routine is a thing rather than an unfolding process, we pretend that a routine could exist without being enacted. While descriptions of routines or formalized procedures (aka SOPs) can exist without being enacted, Routine Dynamics asserts that routines are ontologically processes rather than entities. Routines come into being (and continue coming into being) as people and artifacts enact them. As a result of this ontology, dynamism is intrinsic to routines.

Analytically, relationality refers to the inseparability of the analytical constructs that we use in Routine Dynamics. This relationality is fundamental to practice theory, which is an important theoretical base for Routine Dynamics (Feldman [Chapter 2], this volume).

Relationality is central to the way practice theorists understand individuals and systems or structures. Separating individuals and structures lies at the heart of two dominant and competing explanations of social order. Reckwitz (Reference Reckwitz2002) refers to these as homo economicus and homo sociologicus: ‘The model of the homo economicus explains action by having recourse to individual purposes, intentions and interests; social order is then a product of the combination of single interests’ (p. 245). Homo economicus is the foundation for theories of rational action and ‘great man’ theories. On the other hand, ‘[t]he model of the homo sociologicus explains action by pointing to collective norms and values, i.e. to rules which express a social “ought”; social order is then guaranteed by a normative consensus’ (Reckwitz, Reference Reckwitz2002: 245). […] As different as homo economicus and homo sociologicus theories are, they nonetheless share the fundamental assumptions that (1) individuals and structures are ontologically independent of one another and (2) either individual economic rational interests or social norms are the primary basis for social action. Breaking with these assumptions, the relationality of practice theory provides a third way to view social reality: that individual interests and social norms can only be separated analytically; in practice, they are always in relation to one another, a mutually constituted duality

Because dualities, such as stability and change, individual and institution, subjective and objective, are central to practice theory and, thus, to Routine Dynamics, discussions of the relationality of mutual constitution often concern dyadic relations. Mutuality, however, does not necessarily mean dyadic but does mean that the relationality cannot be one-sided. In Routine Dynamics, the initial focus was on a dyadic relationship – the performative and the ostensive aspects of routines – but before long, D’Adderio’s (Reference D’Adderio2011) work brought artifacts fully into this relationship and the dyad became a triad. In strengthening the process ontology of Routine Dynamics this triad becomes performing, patterning and materializing. Within Routine Dynamics theorizing, it has always been clear that these aspects of routines are not separable. The language of mutual constitution can, however, give the impression of things that are separable and that influence one another (Orlikowski, Reference Orlikowski2007). Thus, in further support of the stronger process ontology, it is also useful to discuss the relationality of aspects of routines as entangled.

1.4.6 Multiplicity

Multiplicity is another important concept for studying the dynamics of routines. Without multiplicity, there are no dynamics. Multiplicity makes possible the dynamics that produce stability and change. Initially, multiplicity meant simply that there are many – many people, many actions, many patterns, many artifacts, many routines. In more recent work (Pentland, Mahringer, Dittrich, Feldman and Ryan Wolf, Reference Pentland, Mahringer, Dittrich, Feldman and Ryan Wolf2020), the idea of multiplicity has expanded from a quantitative to a qualitative multiplicity (see Bergson, Reference Bergson1950) based on a relational rather than a substantive ontology (Emirbayer, Reference Emirbayer1997).

Multiplicity of the quantitative sort (numbers of things) is fundamental to the initial reconceptualization of routines that underlies the field of Routine Dynamics. Feldman and Pentland (Reference Feldman and Pentland2003: 95) distilled a core definition of organizational routine as ‘a repetitive, recognizable pattern of interdependent actions, involving multiple actors’. Consistent with the work of previous organizational scholars, this definition ‘emphasized the involvement of multiple individuals and the interdependence of their actions’ (Feldman and Pentland, Reference Feldman and Pentland2003: 96). The new conceptualization of routines, however, did not stop with this core definition, and multiplicity in Routine Dynamics does not stop with actors and actions but also includes patterns (ostensive aspects) and artifacts (materiality). While at times referring to both the performative aspect and the ostensive aspect in the singular, Feldman and Pentland specifically addressed the temptation to think of the ostensive aspect as a singular thing.

It is tempting to conceptualize the ostensive aspect of the routine as a single, unified object, like a standard operating procedure. This would be a mistake, because the ostensive incorporates the subjective understandings of diverse participants. Like any socially distributed stock of knowledge, the ostensive aspect of a routine is usually not monolithic; it is likely to be distributed unevenly (Berger and Luckmann, Reference Berger and Luckmann1966; Schutz, Reference Schutz, Walsh and Lehnert1967). Each participant’s understanding of a routine depends on his or her role and point of view.

(2003: 101)

The multiplicity of artifacts in relation to routines was also important as this reconceptualization sought to distinguish routines from a unified rule or Standard Operating Procedure as noted in the previous quote. Indeed, Pentland and Feldman (Reference Pentland and Feldman2005: 797) note that, ‘the range of artifacts that can constrain and enable routines is practically endless’.

Over time and through many empirical studies the focus of Routine Dynamics has expanded to include the multiplicity of routines and the dynamics that occur as multiple routines affect one another. As important as it is to see what happens within a routine, routines are enacted in relation to other routines. Thus, Routine Dynamics articles have explored ecologies of routines (Birnholtz et al., Reference Birnholtz, Cohen and Hoch2007; Sele and Grand, Reference Sele and Grand2016), clusters of routines (Kremser and Schreyögg, Reference Kremser and Schreyögg2016), intersecting routines (Spee, Jarzabkowski and Smets, Reference Spee, Jarzabkowski and Smets2016) and interdependent routines (Yi, Knudsen and Becker, Reference Yi, Knudsen and Becker2016) to see how these multiplicities affect stability and change in organizations.

Recently, routine scholars have expanded the notion of multiplicity. to better understand stability and change. Both D’Adderio and Pollock (Reference D’Adderio and Pollock2020) and Pentland et al. (2020) theorize the multiplicity of processes, albeit in different ways. D’Adderio and Pollock (Reference D’Adderio and Pollock2020) refer to ‘ontological multiplicity’, while Pentland et al. (2020) theorize a specific notion of ‘process multiplicity’.

D’Adderio and Pollock (Reference D’Adderio and Pollock2020) draw on the idea of ontological multiplicity developed by Mol (Reference Mol2002) that processes such as routines are not unified, singular ‘objects’ but are themselves multiplicities. Specifically, D’Adderio and Pollock (Reference D’Adderio and Pollock2020: 14) ‘characterize routines as ontologically fluid and only coming together as “one routine” with great effort and as a temporary, challenged achievement’. Through a study of routines replication, they found that ‘routines similarity and singularity did not consist in the complete absence of, but instead productively encompassed, difference and multiplicity’ (D’Adderio and Pollock, Reference D’Adderio and Pollock2020: 11). Similarity and singularity here emerge from the coordination of multiple versions of the routine across sites and over time (D’Adderio and Pollock, Reference D’Adderio and Pollock2020).

Ontological multiplicity opens up new ways of studying routines and new questions for Routine Dynamics. As D’Adderio and Pollock note,

studying routines as fluid patterns implies going a fundamental step further in unpacking routines dynamics. Now we can ask new questions such as: when is a routine the same routine? How much can a routine change before it becomes another routine? And if it does change that far, how can it be re-stabilized, or brought back into being the same routine? And through which agential devices or mechanisms?

(D’Adderio and Pollock, Reference D’Adderio and Pollock2020: 14)

The notion of process multiplicity in Pentland et al. (2020) defines processes as a duality of one and many in which the ‘one’ process or pattern or routine is always constituted of multiple paths (i.e., possible ways of performing a routine) that emerge from sequential relations among actions. The authors state that,

[w]hile routine dynamics research has been very useful in showing how processes are generative systems in the interplay between the ‘one’ and actual performances, our conceptualization of process multiplicity takes this view one step further: it allows us to consider not only change in actual performances, but also changes in possible paths. Thus we can ask how does the space of possible paths change when organizational members change the idealized model? And what are the mechanisms that drive this change?

1.5 Conclusion: Where to Go from Here?

Routine Dynamics involves de-centring and dissolving conventional points of view. ‘Routine’ is a noun, but a routine is not a thing. Routines are repetitive, but not necessarily ‘routine’ (the adjective). Routines are dynamic. Each of the theoretical underpinnings of Routine Dynamics has this quality: ethnomethodology, pragmatism, practice theory, actor-network theory and socio-materiality have all been disruptive and decentring, each in its own way. Together, this latticework of theoretical perspectives has been generative.

In a way, decentring is a natural product of looking closely at the patterns of doings and sayings, along with the actors and artifacts that enact them. Rather than talking about routines in general, we have looked at routines in particular, but with a fresh lens. Dittrich (Chapter 8, this volume) counts 40+ ethnographies, plus many other works that have drawn on computational procedures, simulations and experiments. Through this work, we have developed a lively and continuously evolving vocabulary to describe the dynamics of routines.

So, the way forward is to begin addressing the implications of this way of seeing for important organizational and societal issues, including the grand challenges of society (George et al., Reference George, Howard-Grenville, Joshi and Tihanyi2016) and the little challenges of management. Each of the chapters contained in this volume charts several new areas for Routine Dynamics to explore. A common theme among these is that Routine Dynamics can do more to help solve real world problems. So far, Routine Dynamics research has been focused on theoretical development (which has been necessary and generative), but now is the time to put these new theoretical tools to work to better understand contemporary phenomena of societal concern, such as the rise of algorithms and automation and the gig economy; and ways to address inequality and racism, epidemics, natural disasters and climate change.

Moreover, more work could focus on exploring the role of routines in more thorny contexts, such as social injustice, fraud and organized crime. Only very recently, Routine Dynamics scholars have started to look at the dark sides of routines (e.g., Eberhard et al., Reference Eberhard, Frost, Rerup, Feldman, D’Adderio, Jarzabkowski and Dittrich2019; den Nieuwenboer et al., Reference den Nieuwenboer, Cunha and Treviño2017). A better understanding of the negative sides of the dynamics of routines will be useful in contributing to discussions and ideas about how to solve these problems.

We also very much welcome work that connects Routine Dynamics to other related fields of research, such as Strategy-as-Practice, institutional theory or dynamic capabilities. Moreover, Routine Dynamics can provide the basis for fields such as behavioural strategy (Levinthal, Reference Levinthal2011) and practice-driven institutionalism (Smets, Aristidou and Whittington, Reference Smets, Aristidou, Whittington and Greenwood2017) that are looking for ‘micro foundations’. Here, Routine Dynamics can provide micro-foundations that are grounded in the doings and sayings of people working in organizations (Powell and Rerup, Reference Howard-Grenville, Rerup, Langley and Tsoukas2017: 313–315; 329–331).

Lastly, we welcome enriching both our theoretical and methodological repertoire to explore routines. Routine Dynamics has started by using new methods and drawing on new theories and this development has been very generative. We hope that in future research new methods and theories will provide new ways of ‘seeing’ and overcoming conventional ways of thinking.


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