Pay now or pay later: the present-future duality in organizational communication

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Gómez, Luis Felipe

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Implicit in fundamental theories of organization regarding issues of change, adaptation, and learning is the acknowledgement of a present-future duality with which organizational members must come to terms. This duality refers to organizational members’ need to function in the present while preparing for the future. Five aspects of this duality highlight its importance as a focus of study for scholars of communication, organizations, and groups: a) it is pervasive, b) communication makes a difference in how the duality is managed, c) managing the duality can lead to unintended consequences, d) its costs and benefits are unevenly distributed across organizational members, and e) a focus on the future does not necessarily prepare organizational members for the future because they are not able to predict the specific ways in which the future might be different from the present (Huber, 2004). Members cope with the present-future duality through communication practices designed to help them adapt to their future environment (Brown & Eisenhardt, 1997). This dissertation explores how clock-based conceptions of time—time as “linear and uniform in its flow, existing independent of objects and events” (Lee & Liebenau, 1999, p. 1038)—relate to communication practices that are linked to the continuous flow of time and not to particular events (Brown & Eisenhardt, 1997). Research suggests that three such practices proactive information sharing, using real-time information, and employing collective reflexivity reduce delays in organizational adaptation. These relationships were examined through two studies. The pilot study included 58 respondents from a high technology organization in the Southwest United States. The second study included 186 respondents from a public transportation organization in the Southwest US. Contrary to the proposed framework, conceptions of time were not related to the three communication practices. However, a future focus was positively related to all three communication practices, exploration and communication adequacy.