The Anthropophagic Organization: How Innovations Transcend the Temporary in a Project-based Organization

Patricia Prado, Jonathan Sapsed

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)
9 Downloads (Pure)


This article shows how innovations in projects may be diffused successfully within a large project-based organization (PBO) and how they ‘live on’ through their adaptation. We draw on the metaphorical notion of anthropophagy, literally ‘human cannibalism’, which is used to explain the appropriation of otherness resulting in ongoing organizational life. Prior organization literature has stressed the difficulties of the transition from the temporary to the permanent, especially the failure of database-oriented approaches, and argued that these barriers may be overcome with repeatable standardized templates. In contrast we show that multiple innovations may be adopted within the same PBO, which manifest as differentiated, combined forms. Cases in the large energy and engineering company, Petrobras, show a systematic innovation process involving subject experts, but centrally a database containing records of 1104 mandatory and discretionary innovations. The article analyses these data, process documentation and observations of 15 completed innovation projects. The article argues that in addition to technical factors the anthropophagic attitude motivates adopters to take on the innovations of others with the appetising prospect of appropriation and adaptation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1793-1818
Number of pages26
JournalOrganization Studies
Issue number12
Early online date23 Aug 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2016
Externally publishedYes


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