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«FICHA TÉCNICA Título Segurança e Higiene Ocupacionais - SHO 2012 - Livro de Resumos Autores/Editores Arezes, P., Baptista, J.S., Barroso, M.P., ...»

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From Crisis to Mindfulness Campos e Cunha, Ritaa, Oliveira, Maria Joãob a Associate Professor - Nova School of Business and Economics – Faculdade de Economia - Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Campus de Campolide, 1099-032 Lisboa, email: rcunha@novasbe.pt; b PhD Student on Management - Nova School of Business and Economics – Faculdade de Economia - Universidade de Lisboa, Campus de Campolide, 1099Lisboa, e-mail: mariajoliveira@sapo.pt

1. INTRODUCTION Crises have always existed; in fact, from the scientific point of view, we could consider the beginning of the world, with the Big Bang, a crisis, as opposed to the construction of the world in seven days by God. Being the main problem an explosion of accumulated energy, there is no doubt that it can be seen and studied as a crisis independently of the perspective or focus. Crises are a permanent phenomenon in human lives, being the Libyan war, a Texas fire, and a new hurricane in New Orleans, the nuclear disaster at Fukushima or simply the Murdoch tabloid’s scandal. They get into our lives unexpectedly, we have to manage them and then, upon resolution, they simply are substituted by other sudden, new and unexpected crisis.

So, from the beginning of the centuries, men faced crises and had to learn to handle them. The ones that learn the lesson are able to grow within a crisis moment, whereas the ones that do not learn, will eventually suffer or perish. But this research work does not intend to be so tragic; on the contrary, it focuses on a positive perspective and in how organizations can learn and transform negative and chaotic times into positive achievements, through learning.


The literature on crises is usually grouped under the headings of ‘crisis management’ or ‘organizational crisis’ and calls for a multidisciplinary perspective, involving disciplines as diverse as sociology, psychology or technical ones (Pearson & Clair, 1998). A human crisis such the one occurring now in the Horn of Africa cannot be seen exclusively through the lens of Anthropology, because it relates with economic questions, for instance, by focusing on populations without the minimum of sustainability, or political decisions such as buying weapons instead of food, or even management and how to more efficiently use social responsibility efforts. The same is true for other kinds of crisis such as industrial or environmental, that may need the attention of different sciences, sometimes as different as organizational psychology and civil engineering. Alexander (1993) identified six schools of expertise in what concerns disaster analysis, to which list we can possibly add Social Psychology. The six schools of expertise are: anthropology, sociology, geography, development studies, geophysical sciences with engineering and health sciences. (Alexander, 1993).

A disaster can be analyzed from different points of view. If it is a natural disaster, as an earthquake for instance, we may appeal to the geophysical sciences, and geography. But for the populations living in the earthquake area, psychology must be called to deal with traumatic situations, not to mention medicine and health sciences in general. That earthquake could also rise important questions for research in economics and finance, in terms of their impact in the markets and in the economy, and even for management, in how organizations deal with the event. That diversity of fields depends on the effects and consequences of the event for societies, markets, and the environment in general. Perhaps the larger the consequences the wider the scope for different disciplines, although the evidence in the literature is lacking.

This multidisciplinarity contributes for the diversity of knowledge, but at the same time, it leads to a miscellaneous set of points of view, ideas and languages that negatively contribute for a disintegration in terms of development of the discipline, leaving the “...research on organizational crises at the periphery of management theory” (Pearson & Clair, 1998, p. 59). The lack of a unitary language hinders the quality of the work done by researchers since there is no consensus for definitions and concepts and approaches. The creation of knowledge is enhanced with the diversity of approaches and experiences, through sharing, allowing for innovation and knowledge development. Nevertheless, this multidisciplinarity renders knowledge sharing difficult, namely for language differences. If for some authors the problem is a crisis (e.g., Boin, 2008) for others it is a disaster (e.g., Turner & Pidgeon, 1997) or unexpected event (e.g., Weick & Sutcliffe, 2001, 2007) or even accident (e.g., Mahler & Casamayou, 2009), depending on the scientific perspective by which the event is approached.

However, in a broader look, some consensus can be found in the different scientific approaches to the phenomenon of “organizational crisis”, namely in defining the concept. A crisis is understood as “...an unexpected, unlikely, yet highimpact event that may cause significant change in human knowledge and performance at the individual, group, organizational, and community levels” (Hutchins, 2008, p. 302). In fact it is possible to know that a crisis may eventually happen, but not precisely when and how the consequences would be. A worker that has retrieved the protections of one engine, is putting him/herself in danger of a work accident and of having a hand cut off, for instance. But if that moment arrives, we don’t immediately suspect that this work accident was caused by a neglectful behaviour. So, a crisis may be predictable since it is possible to acknowledge that there is a potential for a crisis with some peculiar characteristics to occur, but it is always unexpected in the sense that its consequences and the moment when it strikes is not predictable, even using the more advanced technologies.

Occupational Safety and HygieneInternational Symposium on

This concept can include a large amount of events to be considered as crises. Pearson & Clair (1998) provide some examples of organizational crises that go from extortion, product tampering, product/service boycott and malicious rumor to terrorist attacks, leaking of hazardous materials, counterfeiting, or natural disasters that destroy corporate headquarters.

Recently we watched some crises in a broader sense, like the earthquake in Haiti, the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster at Fukushima, the terrorist attack in Norway, the international financial crisis that is threatening the Euro survival or the famine in the horn of Africa that kills millions of people, especially unprotected children.

In the midst of these chaotic circumstances, there are people that survive and organizations that continue to develop and be the top of the list in their economic markets. So, how do they do it? How do they strive in such turbulent environments when surviving is sometimes hard enough? Possibly because they respond faster and correctly to the crisis, identifying the main problem, the causes and the possible consequences, and by that, immediately take action to diminish the severity of the consequences and to implement required measures to solve the crisis in the faster time possible.

Organizations that can have positive results in chaos situations are High Reliability Organizations [HROs]; these organizations, even in the riskier environments, can avoid crises and diminish their negative impacts.

3. MINDFULNESS HROs are real examples of mindfulness and how it develops in real organizations, working in real time and in risky environment.

HROs, by implementing a mindful infrastructure, can manage risk environments efficiently and with reliability. HROs in fact are defined by Roberts (Bourrier, 2005, p.94) as organizations “...in which errors can have catastrophic outcomes, but which conduct relatively error free operations over a long period of time, making consistently good decisions, resulting in high quality and reliability operations” (Bourrier, 2005, p. 94). Those results are due to the implementation of the five principles of the mindful infrastructure identified by Weick and Sutcliffe (2001, 2007). The five principles of the

mindful infrastructure are:

1) Preoccupation with failure; 2) Reluctance to simplify interpretations; 3) Sensitivity to operations ;4) Commitment to resilience; 5) Deference to expertise. Each one of those principles contributes for the development of a mindfulness state in the organization, by which people are attentive to the invisible potential risks existing inside and outside the organization that may affect it. This state is permanent, but in HROs it is a natural state albeit being complex and requiring a complex functioning. It is important to recognize the fact that any kind of organization is able to implement and develop a mindful infrastructure (Weick, Sutcliffe & Obstfeld, 1999) and that organizations can be HROs in different levels, meaning that an organization can be more reliable in the first principle vis a vis another one that is more reliable in the fifth principle. Inside an organization, the same is true; the second principle could be more developed than the fourth one, depending on the characteristics of the organization, its policies and strategy.

Weick and Sutcliffe (2001, p. 42) define the state of mindfulness as “...the combination of ongoing scrutiny of existing expectations, continuous refinement and differentiation of expectations based on new experiences, willingness and capability to invent new expectations that make sense of unprecedented events, a more nuanced appreciation of context and ways to deal with it, and identification of new dimensions of context that improve foresight and current functioning” (adapted by Weick and Sutcliffe, 2001 from Janger, 1989).

The state of mindfulness exists when organizational actors are attentive to every little detail occurring in the organization and can predict what kind of unexpected events, with which consequences, and, if they happen, they act immediately in order to diminish the severity of their consequences. On the contrary, some organizations live in a state of mindlessness, in which things are done according to unchangeable routines that do not leave space to adaptations to the reality of the moment, and by that allowing the possibility of more crises to occur.

HROs face the unexpected and survive like the Phoenix because they use the power of mindfulness and for Weick and Sutcliffe (2001), “the power of a mindful orientation is that it redirects attention from the expected to the irrelevant, from the confirming to the disconfirming, from the pleasant to the unpleasant, from the more certain to the less certain, from the explicit to the implicit, from the factual to the probable, and from the consensual to the contested” (Weick & Sutcliffe, 2001, p.44)

4. CONCLUSIONS Crises are something unexpected but they are constantly happening and people and organizations must be prepared to face them and especially to face their consequences. Crises have been studied under the lens of several and diverse perspectives as social or technical sciences; albeit some consensus, the truth is that there is no integration of ‘crisis management’ as a scientific field, rather a miscellaneous of voices and languages and arguments of different sciences.

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