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


  • Ramona PERGEL

    (E.ON Energie Romania S.A.)

  • Alexandros G. PSYCHOGIOS

    () (Department of Business Administration & Economics & South Eastern European Research Centre City College, International Faculty of the University of Sheffield)


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.

Suggested Citation

  • Ramona PERGEL & Alexandros G. PSYCHOGIOS, 2013. "Making Sense of Crisis: Cognitive Barriers of Learning in Critical Situations," Management Dynamics in the Knowledge Economy Journal, College of Management, National University of Political Studies and Public Administration, vol. 1(2), pages 179-205, August.
  • Handle: RePEc:nup:jrmdke:v:1:y:2013:i:2:p:179-205

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Silvana Malle, 2009. "Soviet legacies in post-Soviet Russia: insights from crisis management," Post-Communist Economies, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 21(3), pages 249-282.
    2. Herbane, Brahim & Elliott, Dominic & Swartz, Ethne, 1997. "Contingency and continua: achieving excellence through business continuity planning," Business Horizons, Elsevier, vol. 40(6), pages 19-25.
    3. Heiko Spitzeck, 2009. "Organizational Moral Learning: What, If Anything, Do Corporations Learn from NGO Critique?," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 88(1), pages 157-173, August.
    4. Drago Dubrovski, 2007. "Management Mistakes as Causes of Corporate Crises: Countries in Transition," Managing Global Transitions, University of Primorska, Faculty of Management Koper, vol. 5(4), pages 333-354.
    5. Isabelle Huault & V. Perret & S. Charreire-Petit, 2007. "Management," Post-Print halshs-00337676, HAL.
    6. Robin L. Dillon & Catherine H. Tinsley, 2008. "How Near-Misses Influence Decision Making Under Risk: A Missed Opportunity for Learning," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 54(8), pages 1425-1440, August.
    7. Vinit Desai, 2010. "Do organizations have to change to learn? Examining the effects of technological change and learning from failures in the natural gas distribution industry," Industrial and Corporate Change, Oxford University Press, vol. 19(3), pages 713-739, June.
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