Learning from Disasters: A ‘Framing’ Perspective

Was the launch of Siri a “disaster”? Depends on how you frame it. (Foto, CC BY-SA 2.0

This research essay is authored by Melissa Köhler, student in the master program Organization Studies at University of Innsbruck.

‘We do not learn from experiences… we learn from reflecting on experiences.’ (John Dewey)

Unexpected and unusual incidents in organizational life often result in a change from stable conditions into situations that are ‘far from equilibrium’ (Rudolph and Repenning, 2002). Even if undesirable incidents entail an organizational breakdown and misery, organizations can try to make sense of the circumstances. They have the possibility to reflect and learn in order to prevent such occasions, or to improve their response the next time. To understand how organizations learn from disasters, current scientific literature mainly analyzes very popular incidents such as the Mount Everest climbing accident in 1996 or natural catastrophes. In order to gain substantial insights on how organizations learn from disastrous situations, this focus on extreme incidents seems quite narrow-minded. Who defines whether a specific event is a disaster or not? A ‘Framing’ perspective could help to induce a better understanding on how organizations learn from such situations.

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