A Weick on the Side of the Head

Karl Weick wrote some very cool stuff about human behavior and organization. In one piece, he wrote about a team of smokejumpers that became disorganized and, as a result, many of them died.

An important concept that Weick coined is "sensemaking." In a nutshell, sensemaking is the mental process of interpreting and constructing the reality around us. So defined, we are sensemaking pretty much all the time as we go about our daily lives. Most of the time, stuff makes sense to us. Sometimes, we find ourselves in challenging circumstances where we have to actively make sense of what is going on.

In my field of organization development, this is a frequent challenge. For example, right now the company I work for is in the throes of post-acquisition integration. The larger company that bought my employer is taking hold of everything and changing a great deal of how we do business.

My co-workers (and I) are faced with a constant stream of new faces, new demands, questions, and uncertainty. All the while, we are still trying to do our jobs.

Sensemaking comes into it at every juncture as we attempt to adjust our mental models from the old to the new. The old sensemaking model worked reliably. Hopefully the new model will jell. It will take time.

The smokejumpers got disorganized, at least in part, due to a failure in sensemaking. Some things happened in the incident that did not make sense to the highly trained fire fighters. Because of this, panic and distrust mounted. Their structure and judgement collapsed. And doom fell.


Sean Murphy said…
A PDF of "The Collapse of Sensemaking in Organizations: The Mann Gulch Disaster" is available on the MyFireCommunity site at: TheCollapseofSensemakinginOrganizations.pdf
There are a number of articles by Weick available there that can be found by the Search function. A scanned version of the original article which preserves the page numbers that the summary that you referenced relies on is available here.
Terrence said…
Hey Sean. Thanks for posting a comment. You are the first to do so! I am happy you found me. How did you happen to find my blog?
I have been a fan of Weick since my undergraduate days at Rutgers when one of my Organization Communication professors, Dave Davidson, introduced me to his concepts.
JingZ said…
I'm new to blogger.com. I really enjoyed reading your blog,but I didn't find the "follow the blog" option. If possible, could you please let me know? Thank you very much!
poroquinha said…
Hi Terrence. I am in search of a connection between Weick's theory and the Starbucks Coffee company, in any aspect. Do you think you can help me out?

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