The increased importance of sensemaking will prove to be one of the central drivers for Enterprise 2.0 technologies adoption. Organizational theorist Karl Weick positions sensemaking as one of the central tasks in organizations. Dan Russell at Creating Passionate Users provides a nice definition of sensemaking that will serve as a useful starting point:
Sensemaking is in many ways a search for the right organization or the right way to represent what you know about a topic. It’s data collection, analysis, organization and performing the task. [Sensemaking 3]
The value of the sensemaking notion in organizational settings is that it highlights the active requirement for managers and leaders to construct sensible accounts out of ambiguous, ambivalent, equivocal, and conflicting data. In a world (imagine Don LaFontaine here) characterized by significant technology, organizational, and strategic change, the problem of sensemaking becomes more acute.
It occurs to me that there is an useful analogy to be made between sensemaking and open source development practices; in particular with the adage that “with enough eyes, all bugs are shallow.” Instead of counting on the insights of a mythological strategic genius, you distribute the problem to the wider organization. Many of the more interesting strategic planning processes (think scenario based planning and future search conferences, for example) are ultimately grounded in that notion.
One of the attractions in Enterprise 2.0 technologies is that they make these strategies more feasible and scalable. Blogs, wikis, tagging, etc. allow participation to scale beyond what face-to-face methods can support. They make it possible to generate and organize more extensive raw materials and inputs to planning/sensemaking processes. Wikis with good version tracking and refactoring capabilities make it both safer and easier to generate and work through alternative representations/sensemakings.
Realizing this sensemaking potential will require brokering some introductions and partnerships. Those adept in the techniques are likely to not be versed in the ways that the technologies reduce or eliminate some of the key barriers to successfully using the techniques. Those who understand the technologies may not be aware that the techniques exist, much less that they could benefit from technological improvement. One starting point I would suggest is for those promoting Enterprise 2.0 technologies to investigate the sensemaking planning techniques and practices and map points where the technologies enable, simplify, or improve the techniques.
2 thoughts on “Strategic sensemaking and Enterprise 2.0 technologies”
Instead of counting on the insights of a mythological strategic genius, you distribute the problem to the wider organization. Many of the more interesting strategic planning processes (think scenario based planning and future search conferences, for example) are ultimately grounded in that notion
I have designed and run about half a dozen future search conferences in the past (even got trained and apprenticed with Marv Weisbord), and am now noodling on what I have decided to call ” the wisdom of the organizational crowd”.
I think that the more and more hyperlinks come to pervade our daily working / business environment, the more and more “open” and loose-but-tightly structured the sensemaking processes will need to be, as opposed to formulaic solutions that people like (or know how) to buy, and that support and sustain (most) large-consulting-firm business models. Marv Weisbord wrote about this quite a while ago in Productive Workplaces, Part Three, Chapter 13 titled “Third Wave” managing and Consulting: A New Practice Theory.
Open Space, Future Search and scenario planning are not dissimilar in concept and operation to game theory as explored in the book Emergence .. a few simple rules and turn it over to the participants .. they’ll get to where they need to go, given the accuracy or appropriateness or criticality of the imposed contraints.
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