What is Sensemaking?

What is sensemaking, and how can it make a difference in our lives?

In our complex and fast-forward world, we are constantly challenged to make sense of our environment. Faced with unknowable and chaotic situations, we easily become immersed in trying to find out how this happened or who was responsible, in turn leading us to in-action.

Leaders in high-risk organizations such as firefighting, medicine, law enforcement, and the military are often confronted with making sense of dangerous, highly ambiguous, and rapidly changing environments. While most leadership research is focused on more stable conditions that promote time-challenged theories, sensemaking is a way to quickly and effectively materialize meaning to inform and act on.

Sensemaking provides a grounded process that enables leaders to perform effectively during extreme events. It is not just a decision-making tool, but a way to open our eyes and reframe a situation into a question of meaning. Themes related to trust, situational awareness, agility, knowledge, and high-reliability highlight the collective sensemaking process that brings sense back into an ambiguous situation. Sensemaking organizes ambiguity.

Making sense out of our experience in the world is a compelling task. Most of us are just trying to answer two simple questions, “What’s the story here?” and “Now what?” Sensemaking has been around since the early 1970’s and the research has produced several applications, including organizational, educational and social approaches. The study of sensemaking has even lead to the creation of changemaking, but that’s for a later discussion.

The focus of my study is on the use of sensemaking to become better leaders in complex and chaotic environments. Follow me as I explore sensemaking and how we can apply it to our leadership practices. I like to say that, “Good sense makes better sense than common sense.” Good Sensemaking may help us bring thinking to action, leading us to safer and better performance, and better outcomes.

Whether leading in high-stakes business operations or in dangerous environments, how do you make sense of challenging situations?

Of Related Interest:

Where good ideas come from / TED: Ideas worth spreading

Humantific: Making sense of Cross-Disciplinary Innovation Now!

High-Reliability Organizing at Wildfire Lessons Learned Center

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