Reproductive Improvisation and the Virtues of Sameness: The Art of Reestablishing New York City’s Emergency Operations Center

November 2012 (VOL. 30, NO. 3)

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Based on an inductive analysis of qualitative in-depth interviews, extensive field observation, and document material, we introduce the concept of reproductive improvisation, an improvisation form that emphasizes reproducing something valued that is lost. We address how an organization might choose sameness in turbulent and ambiguous environments, and how it achieves that goal. Using the reestablishment of the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) following its destruction during the September 1l, 2001 World Trade Center disaster in New York City, we discuss how factors such as system stability, pressures to maintain the status quo, substitution accessibility, and retaining a preexisting mental map that develops into a shared vision all facilitate reproductive improvisation. This research differs from most other work on improvisation (e.g., Weick, 1998) that focuses on improvising to generate something new. Here we focus on improvising to generate something that is, as much as possible, the same as a previous model. We therefore add a new perspective on the usual thinking of improvisation and organizations responding to changing environments.