The Power of Babel: When Misunderstanding can be Productive


  • Özgecan Koçak Goizueta Business School, Emory University
  • Phanish Puranam INSEAD



Productive misunderstandings, strategic ambiguity, miscommunication, communication


Misunderstandings often lead to accidents, delays, missed opportunities, waste, and conflict in organizations. However, on occasion, they can also lead to beneficial outcomes, at least for one of the parties involved. Prior scholarship on productive misunderstandings and strategic ambiguity illustrates this with a range of examples in diverse contexts, but there is no coherent framework to understand the conditions under which misunderstandings can be beneficial. This paper elucidates three mechanisms — establishing truce, encouraging search, and creating resonance — through which misunderstandings can create positive outcomes, as well as the different boundary conditions for each mechanism.


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How to Cite

Koçak, Özgecan, & Puranam, P. (2024). The Power of Babel: When Misunderstanding can be Productive. Sociologica, 18(1), 117–137.