Gareth Morgan (business theorist)

Organizational theorist

Gareth Morgan (born December 22, 1943) is a British/Canadian organizational theorist, management consultant and Distinguished Research Professor at York University in Toronto.


  • Many organizations and their managers drive toward the future while looking through the rear-view mirror. They manage in relation to events that have already occurred, rather than anticipate and confront the challenges of the future.
    • Morgan (1988) Riding the waves of change: developing managerial competencies for a turbulent world. p. 4

Images of Organization (1986)


Gareth Morgan (1986) Images of Organization, Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.

  • Organization always hinges on the creation of shared meanings and shared understandings, because there have to be common reference points if people are to shape an align their activities in an organized way.
    • p. 11; as cited in: Malcolm Warner, Morgen Witzel (2004) Managing in virtual organizations. p. 24
  • Organizations are complex and paradoxical phenomena that can be understood in many different ways. Many of our taken-for-granted ideas about organizations are metaphorical, even though we may not recognize them as such. For example, we frequently talk about organizations as if they were machines designed to achieve predetermined goals and objectives, and which should operate smoothly and efficiently. And as a result of this kind of thinking, we often attempt to organize and manage them in a mechanistic way, forcing their human qualities into a background role. By using different metaphors to understand the complex and paradoxical character of organizational life, we are able to manage and design organizations in ways that we may not have thought possible before.
    • p. 13; Cited in: Morgen Witzel (2011) Fifty key figures management, p. 205
  • Consider, for example, the mechanical precision with which many of our institutions are expected to operate. Organizational life is often routinized with the precision demanded of clockwork. People are frequently expected to arrive at work at a given time, perform a predetermined set of activities, rest at appointed hours, and then resume their tasks until work is over. In many organizations, one shift of workers replaces another in methodical fashion so that work can continue uninterrupted twenty-four hours a day every day of the year. Often, the work is very mechanical and repetitive. Anyone who has observed work in the mass-production factory or in any of the large “office factories” processing paper forms such as insurance claims, tax returns, or bank checks will have noticed the machine-like way in which such organizations operate. They are designed like machines, and their employees are in essence expected to behave as if they were parts of machines.
    • p. 20; As cited in as Vivien Martin -(2003) Leading change in health and social care. p. 157: About the organization as machine:
  • Bureaucracy can have dehumanizing effect upon employees, making them more like machines, especially those at the lower levels of the organizational hierarchy
    • p. 35
  • The metaphor suggests that different environments favor different species of organizations based on different methods of organizing and that congruence with the environment is the key to success.
    • p. 35 (Morgan, 1998)
  • As we look around the organizational world we begin to see that it is possible to identify different species of organization in different kinds of environments. Just as we find polar bears in arctic regions, camels in deserts, and alligators in swamps, we notice that certain species of organization are better ‘‘adapted’’ to specific environmental conditions than others. We find that bureaucratic organizations tend to work most effectively in environments that are stable or protected in some way and that very different species are found in more competitive and turbulent regions, such as the environments of high-tech firms in the aerospace and microelectronics industries.
    • p. 39; As cited in as Vivien Martin -(2003) Leading change in health and social care. p. 157: About the organization as organism.
  • Any system that insulates itself from diversity in the environment tends to atrophy and lose its complexity and distinctive nature
    • p. 47
  • To self-regulate, learning systems must be able to
    1. Sense, monitor and scan significant aspects of their environment,
    2. Relate this information to the operating norms that guide system behavior
    3. Detect significant deviations from these norms, and
    4. Initiate corrective action when discrepancies are detected.
    If these four conditions are satisfied, a continuous process of information exchange is created between a system and its environment, allowing the system to monitor changes and initiate appropriate responses. In this way, the system can operate in an intelligent, self-regulating manner.
    • p. 77-78 (Morgan, 1998); Cited in: Sherryl Stalinski (2005) A Systems View of Social Systems, Culture and Communities. Saybrook Graduate School. p. 5
  • Contingency theorists suggest that we can best proceed by appointing 'the right people' to the job we have in mind, and by creating flexible authority, communications, and reward structures that will motivate them to satisfy their own needs through the achievement of organizational goals.
    • p. 78; as cited in: Steffen Blaschke (2008). Structures and Dynamics of Autopoietic Organizations. p. 42
  • The organization as a coalition of diverse stakeholders is a coalition with multiple goals.
    • p. 154
  • Conflict may be personal, interpersonal, or between rival groups or coalitions. It may be built into organizational structures, roles, attitudes, and stereotypes or arise over a scarcity of resources. It may be explicit or covert. Whatever the reason, and whatever the form it takes, its source rests in some perceived or real divergence of interests.
    • p. 155 as cited in: As cited in: R. van den Nieuwenhof (2003) 2 strategie: omgaan met de omgeving. p. 43-44
  • Power is the medium through which conflicts of interest are ultimately resolved. Power influences who gets what, when, and how.
    • p. 158
  • Groups and departments often attempt to incorporate key skills and resources within their boundaries and to control admissions through selective recruitment.
    • p. 170
  • While they create a way of seeing and suggest a way of acting, they also tend to create ways of not seeing, and eliminate the possibility of actions associated with alternative views of the world.
    • p. 202
  • In order to live in harmony with one another, humans must moderate and control their impulses, and that the unconscious and culture were thus really two sides of the same coin.
    • p. 203
  • Patriarchy operates as a kind of conceptual prison, producing and reproducing organizational structures that give dominance to males and traditional male values.
    • p. 211
  • Though we may in quiet times confront the fact that we are going to die, much of our daily life is lived in the artificial realness created through culture. This illusion of realness helps to disguise our unconscious fear that everything is highly vulnerable and transitory.
    • p. 213
  • In highlighting the role of the unconscious in organization, there is a danger that many will now want to find ways of managing the unconscious as well. This, of course, is impossible, because the unconscious is, by nature, uncontrollable.
    • p. 231
  • Dialectical analysis thus shows us that the management of organization, of society, and of personal life ultimately involves the management of contradiction.
    • p. 266

Imaginization (1993)


Gareth Morgan (1993) Imaginization: the art of creative management.

  • An organization has no presence beyond that of the people who bring it to life.
    • p. xix
  • Imaginization is about improving our abilities to see and understand situations in new ways.
    • p. 2
  • In the most basic sense, imaginization invites a way of thinking. It encourages us to become our own theorists and to feel comfortable about acting on the basis our insights. It invites us to develop a skill that I believe we all have, even though we may not realize that this is the case. By recognizing this, and thinking creatively and intelligently about ourselves and our situations, we can 'push the envelope' on our realities and reshape them positively.
    • p. 16, as cited in: Colin M. Beard, ‎John Peter Wilson (2006), Experiential Learning: A Best Practice Handbook for Educators and and Trainers. p. 272
  • Look for every seed of enthusiasm, and try to build pockets of success.
    • p. 47

Quotes about Gareth Morgan

  • Gareth Morgan is best known as the creator of the concept of 'organisational metaphors' as a management tool. His greatest insight has been to determine that, while there is no one model of organisation that can entirely capture the essence of organisation, it is possible by means of metaphors to look at organisations from different angles and see different facets
  • Gareth Morgan provides a rich and comprehensive resource for exploring the complexity of modern organizations internationally, translating leading-edge theory into leading-edge practice.
    • Frederick C. Lunenburg, Allan C. Ornstein (2007) Educational administration: concepts and practices. Vol 13. p. 67
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