Sensemaking in Crisis and Change: Inspiration and Insights From Weick

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Authors: S. Maitlis, S. Sonenshein

Publication Year: 2010


Journal: Journal of Management Studies

Volume: 47

Issue: 3

Categories: Organizational Change, Crisis, Decision Making, Gestalt Switch, Quantitative


When Karl Weick's seminal article, ‘Enacted Sensemaking in Crisis Situations’, was published in 1988, it caused the field to think very differently about how crises unfold in organizations, and how emergent crises might be more quickly curtailed. More than 20 years later, we offer insights inspired by the central ideas in that article. Beginning with an exploration of key sensemaking studies in the crisis and change literatures, we reflect on lessons learned about sensemaking in turbulent conditions since Weick (1988), and argue for two core themes that underlie sensemaking in such contexts: shared meanings and emotion. We examine when and how shared meanings and emotion are more and less likely to enable more helpful, or adaptive, sensemaking, and conclude with some suggestions for future research in the sensemaking field.

Critical Reflection

I chose this paper because the concept of organizational crisis is analyzed with several ideas regarding emotions in crisis situation. I have been working on curiosity as a method to face organizational crisis and, in my opinion, this paper showed some ideas that could be used to expand the knowledge on organizational curiosity. I have learnt 10 major lessons from this paper: 1. The shift from a failure of technology to a failure in human-technology interaction 2. The interesting idea of reality “socially constructed” 3. Basically, the concept of sense making underline the process of a construction of a shared meaning. When the ordinary activity is disturbed by cues that something wrong is coming , human beings use to create a new frame of meaning in order to understand what is going on. 4. Crisis is characterized by confusion, disorder and a turbolent context. Looking in a crisis requires understanding. This process is “sense making” 5. Sense making is an adaptive process. The actors involved in this process use new information and knowledge in order to reach a new sense of reality 6. Curiosity is a good attitude in adaptive sense making. Curiosity is between two extremes : the excess of confidence and the excess of caution 7. Shared meanings are helpful but also potentially destructive for the organization. 8. The authors quote an interesting idea on curiosity. It is a overconfident type of curiosity. One is not going beyond his/her knowledge but he/she is thinking that he/she knows what he/she needs. 9. In sense making one of the problem is due to the fact that a widespread shared meaning in organizations, among all levels of workers, presents a high level of danger. 10. The novelty of sense making approach of this paper respect traditional approaches in crisis management is to consider social and affective process instead of cognitive processes.