Handbook of Organizational Routines
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Handbook of Organizational Routines

Edited by Markus C. Becker

This cutting-edge, multidisciplinary Handbook comprises specially commissioned contributions surveying state-of-the-art research on the concept of organizational routines. An authoritative overview of the concept of organizational routines and its contributions to our understanding of organizations is presented. To identify those contributions, the role of organizational routines in such processes as organizational learning, performance feedback, and organizational memory is discussed. To identify how the concept can contribute to different disciplinary fields, the expert authors review applications across a range of fields including political science, sociology, and accounting.
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Chapter 11: Staying on Track: A Voyage to the Internal Mechanisms of Routine Reproduction

Martin Schulz


Martin Schulz1 All evil deeds, all crimes, all self-sacrificing actions, all heroic exploits, as well as all the actions of ordinary life, are controlled by the moon. (Gurdjieff, 1949)2 Routines are a dominant feature of human existence. We use routines when we walk, talk, read, answer the phone, or write an email. It is hard to think of any domain of activity that does not involve some kind of routine. Even innovation, improvisation and thinking involve routines.3 Our engagement with routines is so vast, it is almost nauseating (Sartre, 1965). It seems we are essentially Gurdjieffian meat machines, sleepwalking through our lives with eyes wide shut. Clearly, such an autopilot perspective on human existence can be a bit disturbing, but it also highlights the most curious feature of routines – their capability of staying on track. Routine execution tends to follow automatically the path of prior iterations of the routine. The experience is a common one. We commute along the same routes, we shop at the same groceries, and we use the same tools. Of course, we do introduce variation occasionally – out of capriciousness or need – but such variations are merely dramatic punctuations on otherwise unremarkable paths of repetitive events (Lyman, 1990). Our experience with routines is dominated by sameness. We adhere to the cow paths of prior routine iteration even if alternatives are clearly available: there are different routes to work, different grocery stores to shop at, and different tools that could do the...

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