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Resolving identities: Successive crises in a trading room after 9/11



How do organizations cope with extreme uncertainty? The existing literature is divided on this issue: some argue that organizations deal best with uncertainty in the environment by reproducing it in the organization, whereas others contend that the orga nization should be protected from the environment. In this paper we study the case of a Wall Street investment bank that lost its entire office and trading technology in the terrorist attack of September 11 th. The traders survived, but were forced to relocate to a makeshift trading room in New Jersey. During the six months the traders spent outside New York City, they had to deal with fears and insecurities inside the company as well as outside it: anxiety about additional attacks, questions of professional identity, doubts about the future of the firm, and ambiguities about the future re-location of the trading room. The firm overcame these uncertainties by protecting the traders’ identities and their ability to engage in sensemaking. The organization held together through a leadership style that managed ambiguities and created the conditions for new solutions to emerge.

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