Professor Bo Hedberg is one of Sweden’s most internationally renowned scholars in the field of organizational theory. He has published articles in many of the world’s most prestigious journals, e.g. “Designing semi-confusing information systems” in Accounting, Organization & Society (1978) and “Camping on seesaws” in Administrative Science Quarterly (1976)
Hedberg was, among other things, interested in the concept of organizational inertia; especially how to strike a balance between the good “inertia” not to change things too soon, and the bad inertia that prevent organizations from making changes that are needed.
In a not so well known internal working paper, published by the public agency “Centrum för Arbetslivsfrågor”, Hedberg and Ericson (1978) elaborate on the anatomy of organizational inertia. They propose the two concepts insight inertia and maneuver inertia to understand inertia. They also explore the interdependences and relations between them as well as how they relate to the external environment.
In this article we will summarize Hedberg and Ericson’s writing on insight and maneuver inertia. We will also show that the same line of reasoning and examples that they used almost 40 years ago can be found in modern best selling management books. Finally, we will use their framework to analyze insight and maneuver inertia regarding investments in information technology in a Swedish printing company during the years 1971-1989. The empirical data is retrieved from board meeting protocols in the newspaper and printing company Barometern, in Kalmar.
Our conclusions are that Hedberg and Ericson’s frame of reference still is valid and can be used to analyze and understand organizational inertia. Our literature investigation also shows that many later management authors have proposed the same type of arguments as they use in their working paper from 1978. In the specific case of the printing company we conclude that – opposite to common wisdom – it was not insight inertia that delayed the printing company to make the necessary investments in IT. Instead it was various aspects of maneuver inertia that postponed the necessary changes to take place.