Understanding Sense-Making

Understanding Sense-Making

David Sammon (University College Cork, Ireland)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59904-843-7.ch103
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The relevance of decision-making theory in improving understanding has been called into question especially when attempting to understand organisational environments faced with organisational change (Craig-Lees, 2001; Mintzberg, Waters, Pettigrew, & Butler, 1990; Reed, 1991). For example, Mintzberg et al. (1990) commented that, in understanding organisational change, the relevance of decision-making theory takes on the appearance of the continued playing of the orchestra on the Titanic as it sank. In fact, Weick (1993) commented that there have been a number of responses to this problem of the over-reliance on decision-making theory in organisational studies, for example, there has been a shift toward examining naturalistic decisionmaking with more attention to situational assessment and sense-making (Weick, 1993). Weick (1993, p. 635) commented that one way to shift the focus from decision making to meaning is to look more closely at sense-making in organisations. The basic idea of sense-making is that reality is an ongoing accomplishment that emerges from efforts to create order and make retrospective sense of what occurs. Consider these scenarios as examples as you start to read this entry: if someone was to say to you “I do not want you to make a decision right away, I just want you to think about it and come back to me when you have time,” you would immediately begin a sense-making process regarding the action you have taken at some point in the past around it. Furthermore, in an interview, if an interviewer asks an interviewee about a project that they were involved in for the past 6 months (for example), the interviewer is triggering sense-making where the interviewee looks back over the project and attributes meaning to what happened.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Decision-Making: A decision-making process is a cognitive process which produces a final choice to take a course of action. Therefore, decision-making is a reasoning process which can appear to be rational or irrational and can be based on assumptions or preconceptions.

Retrospection: The ongoing nature of sense-making means that retrospective sense may be continually rewritten over time. The retrospective element of sense-making embraces the fact that “people can know what they are doing only after they have done it.”

Metaphor: Metaphors are a way to describe something and are used to improve understanding of a phenomenon under study. A metaphor is a comparison that shows how two things that are not alike in most ways are similar in one important way.

Sense-Making: The process of creating situational awareness and understanding in situations of high complexity or uncertainty in order to make decisions.

Mental Framework: An explanation and representation of a person’s thought process (cognition) for how something works in the real world (external reality).

Constructivism: The basic premise of constructivism is that an individual must actively “build” knowledge and that information exists within these built constructs rather than in the external environment. All advocates of constructivism agree that it is the individual’s processing of stimuli from the environment and the resulting cognitive structures that prompt adaptive behaviour.

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