Dealing with unusual experiences: A narrative perspective on organizational learning

Raghu Garud, Roger L.M. Dunbar, Caroline A. Bartel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

122 Scopus citations


Experiences that do not fit squarely into known categories pose a challenge to notions of organizational learning that rely primarily on scientific or experiential approaches. Making sense of, responding to, and learning from such unusual experiences requires reflection and novel action by organizational actors. We argue that narrative development processes make this organizational learning possible. By developing narratives, organizational actors create situated understandings of unusual experiences, negotiate consensual meanings, and engage in coordinated actions. Through the accumulation of narratives about unusual experiences, an organization builds a memory with generative qualities. Specifically, through narratives, actors evoke memories of prior unusual experiences and how they were dealt with, and this generates new options for dealing with emerging unusual experiences. We outline a framework detailing how narrative development processes enable organizational learning from unusual experiences and conclude by summarizing how this approach differs from and yet builds upon scientific and experiential approaches to learning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)587-601
Number of pages15
JournalOrganization Science
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Strategy and Management
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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