Forbes: Sensemaking, Narrative-Building And Playing Your Part

by michael b. arthur

In this review of the most recent book by ReD Associates co-founder Christian Madsbjerg, Forbes contributor Michael B. Arthur provides a broad overview of Sensemaking, including theories about the concept from organizational behavior scholar Karl Weick. This is an excerpt of the review.


Christian Madsbjerg  Søren Hassel

Christian Madsbjerg Søren Hassel

In regard to those fixed positions, a wider view of sensemaking has been laid out in a recent book of the same name, Sensemaking, written by philosopher/political-scientist Christian Madsbjerg. He doesn’t directly reference Weick. Instead, he describes sensemaking as “an ancient practice of cultural inquiry, a process based on a set of values we are in great danger of forgetting.” It is a practice that is sensitive toward “meaningful differences” in what matters to yourself and other people. Consider the boss who mindlessly applies the same bureaucratic rules regardless of an individual's circumstances, or the organization that only cares about “winning the war for talent” rather than what its talented people want for themselves. Add to these what Madsbjerg sees as “the pendulum shifts of our age,” involving the march of technology, the introduction of “big data” analysis, and the use of algorithms in mass marketing and political messaging, and you get a better feel for his concerns.

Madsbjerg sees these pendulum shifts, and the abstractions on which they are built as “eroding our sense of the human world.” He offers five “principles of sensemaking” to help you contribute to the rebuilding of that world. Briefly they are:

  1. Focus on cultures, not individuals: You need to receive messages through their social context, and to see a room of people as a cultural happening rather than a collection of individuals.

  2. Use thick data not thin data: Anthropologists use the term “thick data” to reflect the depth to which individual data can be understood in its wider cultural context, rather than being simply observed.

  3. See the savannah, not the zoo: The metaphor is largely self-explanatory. You need to ask not only who’s here, but where have they come from, and how do they sustain themselves.

  4. Engage with creativity not manufacturing. This one invites you to leave behind the primary assumptions of the industrial age. Look beyond what’s familiar, take on what’s messy, and let creativity happen.

  5. Finally, be guided by The North Star rather than GPS. People in the present time are persistently looking for detail, and developing new algorithms to provide it. In previous times, a single reference point worked remarkably well, and to everyone’s advantage.

The full article is available to readers at Forbes.


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