Monthly Archives: February 2010

Karl Weick Keeps You on Your Toes

As we were discussing yesterday in class, Karl Weick’s work is an influential example of the open systems approach.  On the spot, I tried to get us to think of examples of retrospective rationalizing.  My memory is that it was…painful.  And that pained me as Weick is influential because his ideas are original and relevant.  They always keep you on your toes as a thinker.

In grad school, it was a treat to read The Social Psychology of Organizing (still in print since 1967!!).  Not least because he pointeClick to enlarged out that organizations are never stable.  They are always organizing.  And because he used cartoons!  Like this one.  Weick also built his understanding of organizations from the cognitive, the individual, not from the structure down.

What I took from our discussion was that there were two ideas Weick covers that we wanted to describe not in conceptual terms, but in empirical terms.  These were retrospective rationality and enacting the environment.  Retrospective rationality is the idea that we act in a myriad of ways and then “make sense” of our actions in cognitive and linguistic terms that attempt to make them rational.    This si not because humans are dumb or lazy.  We act and then think because the unending flow of activity of the world demands it of us.  The ways in which we act are also due to a myriad of past reasons and contingencies.  In other words, there are always more reasons we have acted or that may explain are actions than we need.

There is equivocality in the world.  We don’t always know why things are.  Hence retrospective rationality is about reducing equivocality; reducing the welter of contradicting reasons why we may have acted or that may explain why the world of human affairs is as it is.  To be adaptive to this environment, to be open, requires tolerating some messiness, some disorder. For example, in SPofO, he writes:

…the inability of organizations to tolerate equivocal processing may well be the the most importnat reason they have trouble.  It is the unwillingness to meet equivocality in an equivocal manner that produces failure, nonadaptation, autism, isolation form reality, psychological cost, etc.  It is the unwillingness to disrupt order, ironically, that makes it impossible for the organization to create order (41).

But what about examples?  In his 1995 book, Sensemaking in Organizations, Weick offers tow research-based examples (29-30).  One involves asking film executives about the future of the film industry after they look at financial reports for the preceding three years.  Logical approach, right?  As it was reported, the exercise reflected how much variation in understanding there was about what had happened in the past.  Hence, any attempt to udnerstand the present and future was beset by equivocality.  Something explained past performance?  But what?  Consumer tastes?  Directors’ abilities?  Cultural zeitgeist?  A second example was a control group psychology experiment (very classic in style) where peopel were randomly assigned to groups that would be arbitrarily assigned low or high performance status (irrespective of actual results).  Those in high performance groups reported that in most areas of group function, guess what, they scored higher than low performing groups.

Closer to home, here is an example that came to me.  Faculty over years have been adapting their teaching differently in different disciplines.  In addition, students come to expect different outcomes in their grades.  There is often a unspoken negotiation about the meaning of grades.  At some point, the observation (which is verifiable) that average grades have gone up is made. Why?  Suddenly, retrospective rationalizing and sense-making kick in.  Is it smarter students?  A corrupted grading regime?  Reasonable adaptation to job market?  Better teaching?  Evaluation score-seeking faculty?  Equivocality is high, but everyone in higher eduction starts taking organizational action DESPITE the equivocality.  They make sense of the situation.

Enacting the environment will have to come in a second part.

Oh, this is also my book contribution, although not technically new books…

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Filed under psychology, social theory

My Day with Delta in the Snow-pocalypse

It is 8:30 pm.

My day, in short.

Up at 5:00.  Shower and pack.

5:40.  Drive to airport and communicate with Jeff and Laura about how to get Frank’s Car.

8:40- Arrive Detroit.
Noon Flight is canceled.

I am put on a 2 pm flight.

It is delayed.
It has a gate change.
It has another gate change.

I check in to get my boarding pass.  Ticket agent swipes me twice.  Then says “You are already on the plane.”  I think this an odd comment, buy hey, everyone is frazzled.   More on this later.

Another delay.

We board just as I am reading the news about how all Interstates in East and southern PA are closed. I-80 (mine) is almost impassable.

As it turns out, my boarding pass says I am Jenny Warren.  She is a nice horse trainer from Wisconsin.  Her boarding pass says Jenny Warren.  The ticket agent took my old boarding pass when she gave me this one.  I never checked to see if it had my name on it.

Ticket agent comes on board and says we are over critical weight and we have to fly with 49/50 passengers.  He has to kick off someone.  WTF?  Shouldn’t a commercial plane be over-engineered to carry the weight of 50 really, really fat or dense people???  He asks where “Jodii Cromaz” is.  I realize it is me.  He is thinking about kicking me off but I point out I had a confirmed boarding pass which the other ticketing agent took when she performed a technical though not anatomical sex change and made me the very nice Jenny Warren.  Who is sitting next to me.  His swift weight-conscious judgment falls on the last stand-by passenger.  He gets booted.  The stewardess starts complaining about how she is on the 7th day of her rotation.

We fly.  All seems fine.

We start descending into AVP airport.  It is very bumpy.  No visibility out the side windows.  Swirling wind and snow.  Plane feels like it is accelerating and decelerating several times.  Woman across the aisle says she can see the ground at 300 ft.  I can too, but in patches.  Stewardess looks like she is trying to look calm.

Pilot comes on and says he cannot land.

We are going to Syracuse, NY- 20 minutes away.

We land.  A huddle between stewardess, pilot, and local gate agent.  We will call him John.  John comes on the PA and says that they are looking into things.

I start texting frantically.

John comes back on and says we can not go back to AVP.  The conditions will not improve in short term.  So, since there are fewer hotel rooms than us, and Syracuse is smaller than Knoxville’s airport, our best option is to fly back to DETROIT.  Ugh.  He says it is too dangerous to take ground transport to AVP.  He says if any of us do anything that makes the plane stay in Syracuse for more than 60 minutes the flight crew will be beyond it’s legal maximum for working hours and something vague and menacing will happen.

We deplane so we can pee and they bring us sandwiches.

I call a hotel and car company thanks to some quick texting and googling on Mike and Virginia’s part.

I ask the other gate agent (not John) if I can get my carry on bag.  I explain to her that I am not Jenny Warner, but that I am Jordi and I am getting off the plane.

I’ll crash here and drive down to Scranton tomorrow, get my car (Bernie), and then Bernie and I will put out our hands in the fine people of PennDOT and their big snow plows to go home on I-80.

Which is how I ended up writing you this email from a Holiday Inn in Syracuse while I wait for some steak tacos to be delivered.


Filed under humor, life, Uncategorized, writing

Risotto Wisdom

The great Nicole, our former nanny and current STELLA service jack-of-all-trades asked me for a recipe for risotto. I thought it was just a few steps, so I started writing. Well, like a risotto, simplicity became complexity.


Risotto wisdom.

I don’t really have a recipe I use.  It is like life, there are just principles to follow.

1)      Right kind of rice (La bomba or other Italian or Spanish short grain rices, arborrio also).

2)      A solid bottom pan that holds heat well is good since you keep adding new ingredients and you don’t want to lose heat.  That is why I used that monster fucking heavy thing always.

3)      Melt oil (butter or olive oil) in pan.  More than you think you need.

4)      Have a drink nearby.  Preferably wine.  Have a sip.

5)      Finely dice some onion or other root veggie to give it earthiness (for example, mushrooms or even celery could work if it were finely diced).

6)      Add rice while cooking over somewhere above medium heat.  Like 5.5-6 on our oven.

7)      Stir rice until it absorbs all the lipids and looks a little translucent.  I think we are getting nuttiness in the rice here.

8)      Start adding some liquids to cook the rice and develop the flavor.  Stocks are pretty key.,  You can experiment.  I kept throwing in carrot juice to make it healthier and give it that wicked color.  But you need something with a full taste like chixn, beef, veggie, or seafood stock.

9)      Throw in some white wine in there at some point.  Maybe 1-2 cups.  Or Sherry, or whiskey.  Play with flavors.  You don’t want to break the bank here.

10)   Keep adding liquid and stirring pretty often.  The recipes act like it is one teaspoon at a time and then stir 40 times.  I never found that necessary.  See 1 and 2 above.

11)   Grate some zippy cheese at some point like reggiano or parmesean.

12)   Keep adding liquid.  You want that thick saucy consistency that comes from the rices starches slowly lending with the liquid.  The whole process takes anywhere form 40-60 minutes.  I can’t remember.

13)   It’s done when the rice is as you like it.  Ever so slightly firm for me.  Some foodies might have some idea of crunch or over cooking.  Whatever.  It is your fucking risotto.

14)   Think about what you want to put on top or in, like roasted veggies, meat, fungi.  Actually, you probably want to do this around #1 or #2.

15)   Throw in some herbs at some point.  I don’t like to overcook herbs, so I wait until towards the end.  Unless it is bay or something that needs lots of time to blend.

16)   Put the cheese in at the end, fold in other ingredients.  Salt and pepper to taste.

17)   Drink some more wine of any quality you can afford.  Enjoy your creation and ponder what other flavors you want to add next time.  At some point you want to do risotto with fungi of some kind.

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Filed under Food, humor, Uncategorized, writing


So I like to make little contributions to language.  I think it comes from a punning family and then marrying into even more of one.  Or maybe it is a function of the mild learning disability.  Words and phrases always look a little off.  I tend to break them down into their components and then think of alternate meanings.

A very off color example.  Virginia is discussing a blog that tracks authors’ submissions to agents.  It is called a “query tracker.”  I quipped: “Is that a way to monitor short gay people?”

Anyway, in my writing group someone was complaining about multi-tasking and hos distracting it is.  Amen!  I rpelied that she should “unitask.” A quick google search reveals it is a company.  It is also a term the productivity crowd picked up on.  “7 Unitasking Tips.” Rats.  I was hoping to coin it.

The only silver lining is that I meant it as half serious-half snarky.

My defintion:

Unitasking: To achieve multi-tasking’s promise, and to live in the mental space of multi-tasking, by pursuing many tasks one at a time. Anyone can do things sequentially and methodically.  Only a recovering multi-tasker can frantically maintain a zen-like state of self-induced stress while unitasking. The key is to think of ten things you should be doing at once, and then proceed to do them one at a time.


Filed under pithy expressions, words, writing