Making Sense of Crisis: Cognitive Barriers of Learning in Critical Situations

Ramona PERGHEL, Alexandros G. PSYCHOGIOS


This paper explores the role of cognitive issues in learning from crisis situations, in particular the managers’ mental representations of crisis and the relationship of these “maps” with the learning process through “sense-making”, as well as the possible cognitive barriers that might prevent the process of learning from crisis and thus allow the incubation of crises to develop in the company. Reviewing secondary data from the current literature, the paper focuses on the complexity of human “sense-making” and understanding the phenomena of crisis and the meaning people assign to it. Considerable attention and analysis has been done in order to assess the manner in which organizations can effectively learn to prevent crisis situations, addressing the theoretical frameworks that analyse the barriers that might occur in the learning from crisis process at an individual and group level, pointing out the need of recognition and sense-making that sometimes the current state of knowledge is not well. The paper argues that the effective organizational learning from crises requires changes in the core beliefs, values and assumptions of organizational members, which translate into sustained behavioural changes and that these changes are possible through intense cognitive processes, in particular through the way managers make sense of crisis situations.


Keywords: crisis, learning, cognitive barriers, sense-making, managers, literature review

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