Knowledge emerging from chaos : organisational sensemaking as knowledge creation

Eloff, Paul (2008-12)

Thesis (MPhil (Information Science))--Stellenbosch University, 2008.


Organisations find themselves in a world of ever-increasing rate of change. Increasingly organisations operate in what is known as the edge of chaos—that zone which paradoxically might lead to paralysis and disaster or to creativity and innovation. In this area of uncertainty, organisations rely on their ability to create new organisational knowledge. What is unclear is exactly how new knowledge comes into being under these conditions and what would count as new organisational knowledge. The thesis tries to shed light on the process by which new organisational knowledge comes into being by considering the context of complexity as an environment that demands innovation while at the same time being the catalyst for knowledge creation. The debate on the nature of organizational knowledge is revisited and contrasted from individual knowledge. A review of the mainstream theories of organisational knowledge creation led up to Boisot’s Social Learning Cycle as the benchmark theory that is used in the rest of the argument. Thereafter the work of Weick on Organisational Sensemaking is discussed. It is argued that the condition of complexity leads to an increase in occasions that activate and heighten organizational sensemaking processes. Parallels are noted between the process of sensemaking and parts of the Social Learning Cycle. It is shown that under conditions of comlexity, organisational knowledge creation processes and sensemaking processes are not only similar, but that organisational sensemaking can be seen as the mechanism whereby new organisational knowledge is created when organisations operate at the edge of chaos. This has a number of implications. The theory of organisational sensemaking is applied to an area of organisational life where it has not been seen as applicable, organisational knowledge creation processes are shown to be much more fundamental phenomena than the literature suggests, and combining Boisot and Weick leads to greater theoretical elegance.

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