800ceoRead: Editor's Choice, Sensemaking

By Dylan Schleicher
This is an excerpt. The full review can be read online here.

We read often in the popular business books of the day about how flawed we are—how inherently irrational, how our brains have evolved to be biased in ways that can work against us in the modern world. The answer to these shortcomings has been to develop better decision-making processes to counter everything from gender bias in corporations to an overreliance on batting average in baseball. And those things represent real progress. So, we turn to the data, to algorithms and algorithmic thinking to trump our own irrationality in an attempt to make better decisions.

In a world where emotional intelligence and cultural understanding are more important than ever before, we need the humanities. 

Christian Madsbjerg believes we are in danger of losing something fundamental in the rush to embrace this way of thinking—if not our humanity, then our faith in the humanities to help us shape our understanding of the world. And, in doing so, we lose context. His new book, Sensemaking, does not decry data, so much as it argues for a more holistic approach to gathering and interpreting it. It doesn’t argue against a STEM education so much as it champions a liberal arts one. It argues that, in a world where emotional intelligence and cultural understanding are more important than ever before, we need the humanities. 

Individuals fixated solely on STEM, Madsbjerg warns, will hit a ceiling in their careers, as “they simply don’t have the intellectual sophistication required to move into the upper echelons of leadership.” An education in and understanding of the humanities and social science are a necessary prerequisite to our understanding of the world, and of each other. Studies show that while STEM majors have a better starting salary coming out of college and (maybe partly because of that) a higher median salary overall, the most “powerful earners—the people running the show” are those with liberal arts degrees.

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Data is important, but with Masjberg’s approach to sensemaking, we have a better chance of putting it in the proper context and using it to enrich our lives and our understanding. Sensemaking helps us navigate the world by encouraging us to include all the data in our decisions, human and technical.


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