Karl Weick has long been known for his work on organization theory. In particular, his work focuses on how organizations make sense of complex and uncertain environments. Among Weick’s most famous works is the study of the fire in Mann Gulch, an initially banal forest fire in 1949 that went wrong and resulted in the deaths of 13 firefighters. Weick’s analysis shows that in such conditions, a professional team faces what he calls a ‘cosmological event’, ie an event so unexpected and powerful that it destroys the will and the ability of the victims to act, in particular to act as a group. It is a great piece of scholarship.
“Managing the Unexpected” explores how the organization can handle the unexpected. To do so, Weick and Sutcliffe chose to study organizations that are specifically created with that end in mind, which they call High-Reliability Organizations (HRO): firefighters, crew of a submarine, the control center of a nuclear plant, etc. What principles do these organizations implement to operate?