Karl E. Weick

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Karl Edward Weick (born October 31, 1936 in Warsaw, Indiana) is an American organizational theorist who is noted for introducing the notions of "loose coupling", "mindfulness", and "sensemaking" into organizational studies.



  • In any potential collectivity, members have different interests, capabilities, preferences, and so forth. They want to accomplish different things. However, to achieve some of these diverse ends, concerted, interdependent actions are required.
    • Karl E. Weick. "Group Processes, Family Processes, and Problem Solving," in J. Aldous, T. Condon, R. Hill, M. Straus, and I. Tallman, eds., Farnily Problem Solving: A Synzposizim on Theoretical, Methodological, and Substantive Concerns. Hinsdale, Ill.: Dryden Press, 1971, p. 26
  • They [laboratory groups] bypass such questions as how one comes to know that a problem exists, what it does to solution adequacy to be working on several different things concurrently with problem solving, what it's like to go about solving a felt, intuited problem rather than an explicitly stated consensually validated problem which was made visible to all members at a specific point in time.
  • There is no methodological process by which one can confirm the existence of an object independent of the confirmatory process involving oneself. The outside is a void, there is only the inside. A person's world, the inside or internal view is all that can be known. The rest can only be the object of speculation.
    • Karl. E. Weick, in: Barry M. Staw, Gerald R. Salancik (eds.) New directions in organizational behavior, St. Clair Press, 1977, p. 273
  • The environment is located in the mind of the actor and is imposed by him on experience in order to make that experience more meaningful. It is seldom dawns on organizational theorists to look for environments inside of heads rather than outside of them.
    • Karl. E. Weick (1977, p. 273), as cited in: James R. Taylor, Elizabeth J. Van Ever. The Emergent Organization: Communication As Its Site and Surface. (1999), p. 285
  • If an organization is to learn anything, then the distribution of its memory, the accuracy of that memory, and the conditions under which that memory is treated as a constraint become crucial characteristics of organizing.
    • Karl E. Weick (1979; 206), cited in: James P. Walsh and Gerardo Rivera Ungson. "Organizational memory." Academy of management review 16.1 (1991): 57-91.

"Educational organizations as loosely coupled systems," 1976[edit]

Weick, Karl E. "Educational organizations as loosely coupled systems." Administrative science quarterly (1976): 1-19.

  • By loose coupling, the author intends to convey the image that coupled events are responsive, but that each event also preserves its own identity and some evidence of its physical or logical separateness. Thus, in the case of an educational organization, it may be the case that the counselor's office is loosely coupled to the principal's office. The image is that the principal and the counselor are somehow attached, but that each retains some identity and separateness and that their attachment may be circumscribed, infrequent, weak in its mutual affects, unimportant, and/or slow to respond.
    • p. 3
  • If all of the elements in a large system are loosely coupled to one another, then any one element can adjust to and modify a local a local unique contingency without affecting the whole system. These local adaptations can be swift, relatively economical, and substantial.
    • p. 7
  • In a loosely coupled system there is more room available for self-determination by the actors. If it is argued that a sense of efficacy is crucial for human beings. ihen a sense of efficacy might be greater in a loosely coupled system with autonomous units than it would be in a tightly coupled system where discretion is limited.
    • p. 8
  • The typical coupling mechanisms of authority of office and logic of the task do not operate in educational organizations.
    • p. 17

Social Psychology of Organizing, (1979)[edit]

Karl E. Weick, Social Psychology of Organizing, (1979)

  • Experience is the consequence of activity. The manager literally wades into the swarm of "events" that surround him and actively tries to unrandomize them and impose some order: The manager acts physically in the environment, attends to some of it, ignores most of it, talks to other people about what they see and are doing.
    • p. 148
  • 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.
    • p. 243 ; As cited in: Dr. Adrian McLean (2013), Leaderhip and Cultural Webs in Organisations: Weavers' Tales. p. 213


  • Action often creates the orderly relations that originally were mere presumptions summarized in a cause map. Thus language trappings of organizations such as strategic plans are important components in the process of creating order. They hold events together long enough and tightly enough in people's heads so that they act in the belief that their actions will be influential and make sense.
    • Weick, Karl E. Organizational culture as a source of high reliability. National Emergency Training Center, 1987. p. 98
  • The basic idea of sensemaking is that reality is an ongoing accomplishment that emerges from efforts to create order and make retrospective sense of what occurs.
    • Weick (1993, p. 635), as cited in: Bruce K. Berger, ‎Juan Meng (2014), Public Relations Leaders as Sensemakers, p. 7
  • Any approach to the study of organizations is built on specific assumptions about the nature of organizations and how they are designed and function.
    • R.L. Daft, Karl E. Weick. "Toward a model of organizations as interpretation systems," Academy of management review, 1984.
  • Campbell (1979) has shown how the learning theory developed in the tight research group surrounding Kenneth Spence was less powerful than the learning theory developed within the much looser group surrounding Edward Tolman. These differences are explained in part by the relative ease people in Tolman's group had evaluating and changing ideas without regard for the effect of these changes on their reputations and the relative difficulty people in Spence's group had when they tried to do the same thing.

"Theory construction as disciplined imagination," 1989[edit]

Weick, Karl E. "Theory construction as disciplined imagination." Academy of management review 14.4 (1989): 516-531.

  • The process of theory construction in organizational studies is portrayed as imagination disciplined by evolutionary processes analogous to artificial selection. The quality of theory produced is predicted to vary as a function of the accuracy and detail present in the problem statement that triggers theory building, the number of and independence among the conjectures that attempt to solve the problem, and the number and diversity of selection criteria used to test the conjectures.
    • p. 516
  • An ordered set of assertions about a generic behavior or structure assumed to hold throughout a significantly broad range of specific instances.
    • p. 517
  • By their very nature the problems imposed on organizational theorists involve so many assumptions and such a mixture of accuracy and inaccuracy that virtually all conjectures and all selection criteria remain plausible and nothing gets rejected or highlighted.
    • p. 521; as cited in: Richard A. Swanson, ‎Thomas J. Chermack (2013), Theory Building in Applied Disciplines, p. 49

Sensemaking in Organizations, 1995[edit]

Weick, Karl E. (1995), Sensemaking in Organizations, ISBN 978-08039-7176-9 

  • To talk about sensemaking is to talk about reality as an ongoing accomplishment that takes form when people make retrospective sense of the situations in which they find themselves and their creations. There is a strong reflexive quality to this process. People make sense of things by seeing a world on which they already imposed what they believe. In other words, people discover their own inventions. This is why sensemaking can be understood as invention and interpretations understood as discovery. These are complementary ideas. If sensemaking is viewed as an act of invention, then it is also possible to argue that the artifacts it produces include language games and texts.
    • p. 15
  • In the recipe, How can I know what I think until I see what I say, saying equates to variation, seeing equates to selection of meaning in what was said, and thinking equates to retention of an interpretation. The retained interpretation may then be imposed subsequently to interpret similar saying (retention is credited) in order to construct cumulative understanding, test past labels for their validity, or generalize older labels to newer events.
    • p. 25
  • Enactment is first and foremost about action in the world, and not about conceptual pictures of the world.
    • p. 36; as cited in: Haridimos Tsoukas, ‎Jill Shepherd (2009), Managing the Future: Foresight in the Knowledge Economy, p. 99
  • When people perform an organized action sequence and are interrupted, they try to make sense of it. The longer they search, the higher the arousal, and the stronger the emotion. If the interruption slows the accomplishment of an organized sequence, people are likely to experience anger. If the interruption has accelerated accomplishment, then they are likely to experience pleasure. If people find that the interruption can be circumvented, they experience relief. If they find that the interruption has thwarted a higher level plan, then anger is likely to turn into rage, and if they find that the interruption has thwarted a minor behavioural sequence, they are likely to feel irritated.
  • Sensemaking tends to be swift, which means we are more likely to see products than processes.
    • p. 49
  • The point we want to make here is that sensemaking is about plausibility, coherence, and reasonableness. Sensemaking is about accounts that are socially acceptable and credible... It would be nice if these accounts were also accurate. But in an equivocal, postmodern world, infused with the politics of interpretation and conflicting interests and inhabited by people with multiple shifting identities, an obsession with accuracy seems fruitless, and not of much practical help, either.
    • p. 61, as cited in: Uta Priss, ‎Simon Polovina, ‎Richard Hill (2007), Conceptual Structures: Knowledge Architectures for Smart Applications. p. 31
  • Sensemaking is about the enlargement of small cues. It is a search for contexts within which small details fit together and make sense. It is people interacting to flesh out hunches. It is a continuous alternation between particulars and explanations with each cycle giving added form and substance to the other.
    • p. 133
  • Organizations are presumed to talk to themselves over and over to find out what they are thinking.
    • p. 133-134, as cited in: Magala (1997, p. 321)
  • That’s what this entire book is about. The basic recipe coordinates with organizing in the way outlined in Figure 5.3 (saying = enactment, selection = seeing what I say, retention = knowledge of what I said). The organism or group enacts equivocal raw talk, the talk is viewed retrospectively, sense is made of it, and this sense is then stored as knowledge in the retention process. The aim of each process has been to reduce equivocality and to get some idea of what has occurred.
    • p. 133-134, as cited in: Magala (1997, p. 321)
  • The organism or group enacts equivocal raw talk, the talk is viewed retrospectively, sense is made of it, and then this sense is stored as knowledge in the retention process. The aim of each process has been to reduce equivocality and to get some idea of what has occurred.
    • p. 133-134


  • Roethlisberger argues that people who are preoccupied with success ask the wrong question. They ask, “what is the secret of success” when they should be asking, “what prevents me from learning here and now?” To be overly preoccupied with the future is to be inattentive toward the present where learning and growth take place. To walk around asking, “am I a success or a failure” is a silly question in the sense that the closest you can come to answer is to say, everyone is both a success and a failure.
  • Simply pushing harder within the old boundaries will not do.
    • Attributed to Karl E. Weick in: Iyar, Subrah S. Why Buy the Cow,. 2007. p. 21

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