Weick, Karl - Action & Belief Driven Sensemaking

The Structure of Concern Project compares many theoretical models from many disciplines to the Adizes PAEI model, arguing that they must all be reflecting the same underlying phenomenon. One concern structure model is described below.

Weick’s sensemaking framework has had a broad impact on writings in organizational decision making. It is a rich and productive conceptual construct which I will not summarize here. My goal instead is simply to draw attention to a part of Weick’s framework that expresses the structure of concern, namely his distinction between action-driven and belief-driven processes in the development of meaning. (Weick, 1995).

Weick distinguishes between belief-driven processes, where new meaning grows out of old, and action-driven processes, where meaning is created to support deeds. Within each process, meanings can be used to stabilize or to adapt to changing circumstances. This produces four different meaning-development processes, as follows:

P – Commitment (Action-Driven, Stabilizing): Meaning is created to justify taking action. Commitment is a very public and visible kind of meaning that implies free choice in its creation, and irrevocability once the commitment has been made.

A – Expecting (Belief-Driven, Stabilizing): Meaning is grown by adding or connecting new meaning to old meaning, in an expanding system.

E – Arguing (Belief-Driven, Adapting): Meaning is grown by opposing existing meaning and connecting contradictory elements, challenging and changing current beliefs.

I – Manipulating (Action-Driven, Adapting): Meaning is created before, during or after the fact to explain one’s action, i.e. ‘impression management’.

These distinctions are interesting for the grounds upon which they group P I (action-driven) and A E (belief-driven) together. It is another variant on the interaction (PI) vs. modelling (AE) distinction that so often differentiates these axes.

1. Weick, K. E. (1995). Sensemaking in Organizations. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications.
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