Publish at September 12 2022 Updated September 12 2022

The virus' disruptive strategy

Style and gender in the dynamics of organizational change

I had the opportunity to work for a large cosmetics group in which the human resources policy had some pretty masterful moments. A human resources policy that can largely explain the sustainability of this company.

Intentionally and consciously, this company hired people with a different style of work than the house type (1). In this sense it was concerned with the intrinsic idiosyncrasies of its employees, long before the current "soft skills" fad. By arriving with a different style than the company's, the new employee slightly modifies the way of working of his environment. Thus, he or she has an effect on the "house style".

And then this new employee eventually settles in, adapts, and flows into the house's genre. Unless he or she doesn't fit in, in which case he or she may be ejected from the system for being too confrontational, too different. To some extent this strategy resembles what might be called the virus strategy.

Inoculating advantageous difference

A great deal of research has shown that through their attempts to occupy the human body viruses have helped to evolve human DNA (2). An approach in the spirit of biomimicry can make us think that this "virus strategy" is one of the conditions for the evolution of systems.

We have been able to find it in the management of companies with the emergence of fashionable phenomena such as the "liberated company" which come to question the system and, somewhere, make it move a little (3).

We could also see it in the way the agricultural world evolves with the regular emergence of "systemic counter-proposals" such as the Larzac movement in the 1970s or the "Notre dame des Landes" movement as well as many local initiatives standing in opposition to the established norm and which end up settling in the cracks of a system to make it move.

The interest of the virus strategy is that it allows a change while preserving a certain balance of the whole system.

In this sense the virus has an instituting function, that is to say that it introduces itself into the system to modify it. If its action is ecological, the system will survive by transforming itself. If its action is not ecological, it puts the system in danger of death. A confrontation then follows, the result of which is necessarily the disappearance of one of the two.

Uber virus type

This virus strategy occurs quite regularly in society. We have seen it manifested, for example, in France with the arrival of Uber cabs or RB&B hosting. These new practices appeared as "wild" economic models, in total rupture with the established social practices from the point of view of labor law. These new practices have spread like a viral attack, without being controlled, at least at the beginning. The state was unable or unwilling to play its role in maintaining the acquired equilibrium.

The recent questioning of the attitude of the French head of state, at the time prime minister, may appear to be a mistake from the point of view of the mission of the head of state, which is to preserve, to avoid endangering the instituted(4). It was therefore not the role of the state to promote something that endangered the cab system.

Despite everything we can note that Uber was a virus that forced the cabs of France to reorganize themselves to integrate into their operation practices and modes of operation such as for example digital and then even "customer orientation", customer service. Concern that they could do without as long as they dominated the market and there was no competition from Uber.

And then we saw the social body implement its defense mechanisms through demonstrations or by appealing to labor laws and public representation.

We see how Uber is currently threatened as a virus by the reaction of the system that uses labor laws to bring Uber's practices back to a socially acceptable operation. Basically, it's the system's immune response!

The social body has reacted like any system by using its defense mechanisms to avoid the risks of destructuring. But at the same time one cannot escape the fact that this virus has made the system evolve in the right direction by allowing innovations to be integrated into the instituted model.

Necessary change

This strategy of the virus manifests itself in very different forms: we have seen, for example, how the covid has allowed the emergence of virtual communications of the Zoom type and thus avoided unnecessary travel. It is under the constraint of the virus that we have changed our practices and our beliefs. The fact of neutralizing the virus by integrating it into our system through collective immunity will not have prevented its transforming effect of social organization.

"What it does not kill us makes us stronger" said Nietzsche(5). I would rather say that which does not kill us adapts us. Every time a foreign body disturbs a system it puts it in front of an alternative: to destructure itself or to adapt.

We can generalize this question of the strategy of the virus by trying to make sense of the shifted behavior of certain social actors.

When deviant behavior is identified in a company, the question that then arises for the system is to know whether this deviant behavior is in the service of an individual selfish interest that is destructive for the system (and therefore to be fought) or whether it is the bearer of an innovation of a transformation of the DNA of its system.

And to know this there are no rules. Each situation is unique.

Challenge or reset

The fact that the virus loses is not always good news: we can ask ourselves today whether the victory against the covid will lead us to return to the previous situation with ever-increasing overconsumption of energy and resources, in an effort to catch up with the effects of the crisis, or whether the virus will have shaken up the organization enough for it to be able to reinvent itself. As things stand, I would tend to think that not much has been learned yet.

Then the failure of the virus will be primarily the failure of the system to take advantage of the opportunity. By seeing in the virus and in the deviant behavior of people only the danger in relation to the already installed equilibrium, it sometimes happens that one deprives oneself of an opportunity to survive.

This is the kind of question one could ask oneself in relation to deviance in general and to the confrontation of beliefs in general.


1 See in bibliography the writings of Yves Clot et All. on this subject

2 See in bibliography the article by Barthélémy Pierre "Humans are related to viruses"

3 See the text: What are managerial modes for?

4 With reference to the so-called "Uber Files" affair - which notably raises the question of the role played by Emmanuel Macron as Minister of the Economy, in the establishment of Uber in France. Faced with regulations deemed too restrictive, the current president of the Republic would have facilitated the arrival in France of the American VTC giant when he was in office at Bercy.

5 Nietzsche 1888 the Twilight of the Idols.

Illustration: DepositPhotos - Olivier26


Clot, Y., & Faïta, D. (2000). Genres and styles in work analysis. Concepts and methods.

YVON Frédéric, VEYRUNES Philippe, "Genre et style", in: Anne Jorro ed, Dictionnaire des concepts de la professionnalisation. Louvain-la-Neuve, De Boeck Supérieur, " Hors collection ", 2013, p. 141-144. DOI

Barthélémy Pierre "Humans are related to viruses"

BLOG TICKET An interview with Clément Gilbert researcher at the Ecology and Biology of Interactions laboratory (CNRS / University of Poitiers).

See more articles by this author




Access exclusive services for free

Subscribe and receive newsletters on:

  • The lessons
  • The learning resources
  • The file of the week
  • The events
  • The technologies

In addition, index your favorite resources in your own folders and find your history of consultation.

Subscribe to the newsletter

Add to my playlists

Create a playlist

Receive our news by email

Every day, stay informed about digital learning in all its forms. Great ideas and resources. Take advantage, it's free!