This chapter endeavors to provide a precise definition of what is meant by “extreme environment”. An analysis of management science literature reveals in effect a recent trend toward a better comprehension and deeper integration of the role played by such contexts in managerial dynamics. Even so, the works on the subject remain heterogeneous. They resort to, and even amalgamate, various notions such as uncertainty [WEI 07], volatility [BOU 89, WIR 07], surprise [CUN 06], extreme situations [LIE 09] or crisis [ROU 07, RER 09], struggling to provide a rigorous and commonly accepted definition of what an extreme environment is.
The developments that follow propose a general characterization of the extreme environment, and proceed with a clarification of the nature of various management situations that are part of it.
An environment qualifies as extreme if it is simultaneously marked by evolutivity, uncertainty and risk [GOD 15, BOU 12, AUB 10]. These three criteria clarify, respectively, the nature of changes the participants are faced with, their probability of occurrence and impact: