Karl E. Weick (born 1936) is a giant of organizational science; his work has been cited more than a hundred thousand times.
In his book The Social Psychology of Organizing (enlarged version, 1979), Weick describes the evolution of cognitive schemes that are used for sensemaking in organized contexts. The organizational model consists of:
- Ecological Change: people perceive changes in their environment, that make a difference and produce ambiguity; ambiguous events in the experience stream of organization members must be interpreted and made meaningful by them in order to be able to be processed further.
- Enactment: Organization members actively construct what they understand as the environment. During enactment, environmental segments are perceived through schema-driven selective perception that allows an organization to move forward. Whether and how they do this is determined in the next phase:
- Selection: based on cognitive schemas, meaning is generated into acceptable interpretations of selected effects of one's own actions.
- Retention: Meaning generated in the selection process is stored as knowledge that can be used in the form of action patterns (causal maps, cognitive schemes) to reduce ambiguity in future cases.
Highly Reliable Organizing
The idea of High Reliability Organizations arose in 1987, after researching the operation of aircraft carriers. One can prepare for something one expects, but expectations always create blind spots because one is usually constantly looking for confirmation of the correctness of such expectations. Because there are also unexpected events, HROs work intensively to counteract the tendency to confirm their own expectations. HROs therefore promote a collective mindfulness based on Five Principles, that are laid out in Managing the Unexpected (first edition, 2001; second edition, 2007; third edition, 2015):
1. The focus and anticipation of mistakes; small bugs can foreshadow bigger problems, so an open climate for reporting errors is important;
2. The aversion to over-simplifying interpretations, in favor of interaction between employees with different points of view that describe the observed events as accurately as possible;
3. The sensitivity to the (qualitatively experienced) actual operational processes, which can deviate considerably from the plans; and where latent failures are already present in the system; all this makes it necessary to reflect on and revise routines and to learn from near misses rather than interpreting them as proof that the organization is operating safely;
4. The pursuit of resilience, because not all errors are avoidable and consequences of errors must be absorbed or contained by educated and trained personnel before errors spread;
5. The commitment to technical knowledge whereby problems are solved e.g. through ad hoc networks where members collectively have the necessary expertise.
Organizations, according to Weick, are, loosely coupled, meaning-making systems. Their reference problem is the perceived ambiguity of events. Organizing processes are about retrospectively reducing ambiguity. Organizational phenomena such as departments, hierarchical levels, positions, goals and resources, actions and intentions, tasks and events are sometimes, but not always connected, they do not interact causally, and are not aligned and coordinated point by point.
Karl Weick and colleagues' work has been of great importance to risk and safety management. Statements Karl Weick has made can be found in literature by a lot of authors, including authors of the "New View", e.g. Resilience Engineering.