Karl E. Weick

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Karl Edward Weick (born October 31, 1936) is an American organizational theorist who introduced the concepts of "loose coupling", "mindfulness", and "sensemaking" into organizational studies. He is the Rensis Likert Distinguished University Professor at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Weick was born on October 31, 1936 in Warsaw, Indiana. He earned his bachelor's degree at Wittenberg College in Springfield, Ohio and his Ph.D. in organizational psychology from Ohio State University in 1962.[1]

Key contributions[edit]


Weick uses the term enactment to denote the idea that certain phenomena (such as organizations) are created by being talked about.

Managers construct, rearrange, single out, and demolish many 'objective' features of their surroundings. When people act they unrandomize variables, insert vestiges of orderliness, and literally create their own constraints.[2]

Loose coupling[edit]

Weick's major contribution to the topic of loose coupling in an organizational context comes from his 1976 paper on "Educational Organizations as Loosely Coupled Systems"(published in the Administrative Science Quarterly), revisited in his review of subsequent uses of the concept, with JD Orton, in 1990's Loosely Coupled Systems: A Reconceptualization.[3]

Loose coupling in Weick's sense is a term intended to capture the necessary degree of flex between an organization's internal abstraction of reality, its theory of the world, on the one hand, and the concrete material actuality within which it finally acts, on the other. A loose coupling is what makes it possible for these ontologically incompatible entities to exist and act on each other, without shattering (akin to Castoriadis's idea of 'articulation'). Orton and Weick argue in favour of uses of the term which consciously preserve the dialectic it captures between the subjective and the objective, and against uses of the term which 'resolve' the dialectic by folding it into one side or the other.


People try to make sense of organizations, and organizations themselves try to make sense of their environment. In this sense-making, Weick pays attention to questions of ambiguity and uncertainty, known as equivocality in organizational research that adopts information processing theory. His contributions to the theory of sensemaking include research papers such as his detailed analysis of the breakdown of sensemaking in the case of the Mann Gulch disaster,[4] in which he defines the notion of a 'cosmology episode' - a challenge to assumptions that causes participants to question their own capacity to act.


Weick introduced the term mindfulness into the organizational and safety literatures in the article Organizing for high reliability: Processes of collective mindfulness (1999). Weick develops the term “mindfulness” from Langer's (1989) work, who uses it to describe individual cognition. Weick's innovation was transferring this concept into the organizational literature as “collective mindfulness.” The effective adoption of collective mindfulness characteristics by an organization appears to cultivate safer cultures that exhibit improved system outcomes. The term high reliability organization (HRO) is an emergent property described by Weick (and Karlene Roberts at UC-Berkeley). Highly mindful organizations characteristically exhibit: a) Preoccupation with failure, b) Reluctance to simplify c) Sensitivity to operations, d) Commitment to Resilience, and e) Deference to Expertise.

Weick explained that mindfulness is when we realize our current expectations, continuously improve those expectations based on new experiences, and implement those expectations to improve the current situation into a better one.[5]

Organizational information theory[edit]

Organizational information theory builds upon general systems theory, and focuses on the complexity of information management within an organization. The theory addresses how organizations reduce equivocality, or uncertainty through a process of information collection, management and use.


  • 1969, The Social Psychology of Organizing (first edition), Addison-Wesley Pub.
  • 1979, The Social Psychology of Organizing (Second edition), McGraw Hill.
  • 1995, Sensemaking in Organizations, Sage.
  • 2001, Making Sense of the Organization (Volume 1), Blackwell.
  • 2001, Managing the Unexpected: Assuring High Performance in an Age of Complexity. with co-author Kathleen M. Sutcliffe, Jossey-Bass.
  • 2007, Managing the Unexpected: Resilient Performance in an Age of Uncertainty. with co-author Kathleen M. Sutcliffe, Jossey-Bass.
  • 2009, Making Sense of the Organization (Volume 2) The Impermanent Organization, Blackwell.
  • 1976, "Educational Organizations as Loosely Coupled Systems." Administrative Science Quarterly 21:1-19.
  • 1984, with Richard L Daft, "Toward a model of organizations as Interpretation systems". Academy of Management. The Academy of Management Review (pre-1986); 9; pg. 284; Apr 1984.
  • 1988, "Enacted Sensemaking in Crisis Situation", in: Journal of Management Studies. 25:4, pp. 305–317, July, 1988.
  • 2005, with Kathleen M. Sutcliffe and, David Obstfeld, "Organizing and the Process of Sensemaking", in: Organization Science. Vol. 16, nº 4, p. 409-421, Jul/Aug, 2005.


  1. ^ a b Miner, John B. (2005), Organizational Behavior 2: Essential Theories of Process and Structure, ISBN 0-7656-1525-8 
  2. ^ Social Psychology of Organizing, p. 243
  3. ^ Orton JD, Weick K (1990). Loosely Coupled Systems: A Reconceptualization, "The Academy of Management Review, Vol. 15:2, pp203-223, http://www.jstor.org/pss/258154
  4. ^ Weick, K. (1993). The Collapse of Sensemaking in Organizations: The Mann Gulch Disaster, Administrative Science Quarterly, Vol. 38
  5. ^ Weick, K. E., & Sutcliffe, K. M. (2001). Managing the unexpected: assuring high performance in an age of complexity. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

External links[edit]