Sensemaking Theory

Kristi Andrews Beth Bare Garry Featherstone

• Kristi:
– History/overview of Sensemaking – Major tenets of the theory

• Beth:
– Overall Relation to Human Communication – Examples of Sensemaking Theory

• Garry:
– – – – Critique of the theory Suggestions for possible future direction Discussion Activity “Question to ponder” & article

• ALL: Q&A

• Introduced in 1971 by Dr. Karl Weick • Sensemaking postulates making people’s ideas and points of view the focus of organizing and managing.
– “Specifically, I would suggest that the effective organization is garrulous, hypocritical, monstrous, octopoid, wondering, and grouchy”
(Weick, 1971)

Major Tenets
1. Grounded in Identity Construction 2. Retrospective 3. Enactive of Sensible Environments 4. Social 5. Ongoing 6. Focused on and by Extracted Cues 7. Driven by Plausibility Rather

1. Grounded in Identity Construction
• Begins with a Sensemaker • Situation Meaning
– Identity Dependence – Ongoing Puzzle

• Derives from Need for a Sense of Identity • Simultaneously Shape and React • Self-Referential

2. Retrospective
• Most Distinguishing Characteristic of SM • Schutz and “Meaningful Lived Experience” • Perceived World is a Past World • Hindsight
– Schutz, “We are conscious always of what we have done, never of doing it.”

• T.M.I. • Example

3. Enactive of Sensible Environments
• People Produce Part of the Environment they Face
– Example:Laws

• People Create Environments, Environments Constrained Actions • No Detached, External Environment • Follett • Action and Thought Cycle • Ring and Van de Ven (1989)

4. Social
• Conduct Contingent on Others
– Allport

• Never Solitary • Symbolic Interactionism • Talk, Discourse, and Conversation

5. Ongoing
• Sensemaking Never Stops • Continuous Flows • Interruptions and Emotional Responses

6. Focused on and by Extracted Cues
• Curse of Effortless Sensemaking
– Products of Process – Need to watch Cues

• Extracted Cue Example • Extracted Cues Depend on Context • Cues Tie Elements Together

7. Driven by Plausibility Rather Than Accuracy
• Accuracy is Nice but not Necessary • Strength of Sensemaking • Why Accuracy is Secondary
– – – – Need to Filter Embellishment Speed Impossibility

• What is Necessary?

1. Grounded in Identity Construction 2. Retrospective 3. Enactive of Sensible Environments 4. Social 5. Ongoing 6. Focused on and by Extracted Cues 7. Driven by Plausibility Rather

Crisis Discussion
1. How did Kristi’s identity to or/within the situation enable her to “make sense” of the situation? 2. Were Kristi’s reactions/sensemaking retrospective? 3. What did Kristi do to affect/create her environment? 4. What affect did the social aspect of the class have?

Overall Relation to Human Communication
• What came first? - Sensemaking or communication? • Organizations evolve as they make sense of themselves and their environment • Communication is key because of its role in the sense-making processes people use. • Thru story telling (a.k.a. Narrative), we “make sense” of events.

Practical Examples of Sensemaking
• Organizational communication directly affects employees’ ability to sensemake • For example…..

Sensemaking/Sensegiving Example

• What’s the sensemaking and sensegiving activity you see in the this brief clip?

Sensemaking/Sensegiving Example
• Lumbergh “tries” to provide a new vision or mental model of the business (“Is this good for the company?”) – sensemaking • “Tries” to communicate to others to gain their support – sensegiving. sensegiving

Practical Example of Sensemaking
• Making sense of the price of gas:
– How does who I am affect what I think about the price of gas? – Price of gas makes me mad! (extracted cue) – Decision to purchase gas is an affect of the environment and



Sensemaking Model

Practical Application of Weick’s Model
• Environment change: HP and Compaq merge. • Enactment: how to merge two different and large companies?
– People – Systems – Locations

• Selection: “Keep the best and reinvent the rest” • Retention: Deciding who to retain, who to let go, what not to duplicate

Critique of the Theory
• Theory seems to be reliant on people’s feelings and motivations (very subjective). • Driven by plausibility rather than accuracy • * During a crisis, sensemaking appears to be ineffective • According to Weick, one part of an organization shouldn’t consider itself more important than another – how realistic is this? • Is this theory really more of just a “would be nice…” considering the reality of companies like Enron, MCI and the like? • Developed over 33 years ago – is it still applicable in today’s cut throat business world? • Is this just a U.S. centric theory? • Does the size of an organization affect the use of

Sensemaking and Crisis Situations
• Weick’s 1991 study of fire fighters • Sensemaking and working in a highreliability in an organization • Study found “shocks” in ongoing events constitute moments for sensemaking

Suggestions for Possible Future Direction
• Interesting to truly test the theory in a company/organization just forming. • Litmus test the theory in a major organization/corporation (e.g., IBM, Motorola, etc.) to see how it plays out. • Before and after study of sensemaking • * Sensemaking and it’s role in

“Over the past decade, the business market has seen extraordinary advances in data mining, information visualization, and many other tools for ‘sensemaking,’ a broad-brush term that covers all the ways people bring meaning to the huge volumes of data (equivocality) that flood the modern world.”
“Can Sensemaking Keep Us Safe?” – Technology Review, March 2003.

Discussion Activity
• How can sensemaking be applied to 9/11?

Article & Question to Ponder

• Article: “Enacted Sensemaking in Crisis Situations” (Weick, 1998.) • Question to ponder: How does your organization use sensemaking?

Thanks for your time and interest tonight! Any additional questions?

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