sensemaking: An on-going process individuals and groups use for interpreting and understanding situations and events unfolding around them.
Sensemaking is significant because action requires that you, or your group, are settled on the meaning or understanding of "What is the story here?" (Weick, 1995). Put another way, what happens if you are confused or conflicted in a situation? How does that affect your decisions and behaviours? The ordinary decision making process is to seek more information, or in cases of information overload to shed information; then to make sense of things ...
Karl Weick categorises sensemaking from enactment-selection-retention into more differentiated seven categories of sensemaking. These seven being captured by the acronym SIR COPE.(Weick, 1999).
- "Social context ... the actual, implied, or imagined presence of others. Sensible meanings tend to be those is a social support, consensual validation and shared relevance. To change meaning is to change social context. When social anchors disappear and one feels isolated from social reality of some sort, one's grasp of what is happening begins to loosen.
- "personal Identity ... a sense of who he or she is in a setting (or context); what threats to the sense of self the setting contains; an what is available to enhance, continue and render efficacious that sense of who one is all provide a center from which judgements of relevance and sense fan-out. When identity is threatened or diffused [identification], as when one loses a job without warning, one's grasp of what is happening begins to loosen.
- "Retrospective ... perceived work is actually a past world in the sense that things are visualised and seen before they are conceptualised. Even if the delay is measured in microseconds, people know what they have done only after they do it. Thus sensemaking is influenced by what people notice in elapsed events, how far back they look, and how well they remember what they were doing. When people put their faith in anticipation rather than resilience, the their acts of retrospect are shallow, misleading, and half-hearted, and their grasp of what is happening begins to loosen." [emphasis added]
- "salient Cues ... sensemaking is about the resourcefulness with with people elaborate tiny indicators into full-blown stories, typically in ways that selectively shore up an initial hunch. The prototype here is a self-fulfilling prophecy or an application of the documentary method. Both elaborate on an initial linkage between a particularly and a category into a confirming evidence. Thus, both individual preferences ofr certain cues as well as environmental conditions that make certain cues figural and salient affect one's sense of what is up. When cues become equivocal, contradictory, or unstable, wither because of individual preferences are changing or because situations are dynamic, people begin to lose their grasp on what's happening.
- "Ongoing projects ... experience is a continuous flow, and it becomes and event only when efforts are made to put boundaries around some portion of the flow, or when some interruption occurs. Thus, the experience of sensemaking is one in which people are thrown into the middle of things and forced to act without the benefit of a stable sense of what is happening. These handicaps are not attributable to personal shortcomings but rather to the stubborn, ongoing character of experience. When people lose their ability to bond ongoing events, to keep pace with them by means of continuous updating of actions and interpretations, or to focus on interrupting conditions, they begin to lose their grasp.
- "Plausibility ... to make sense is to ask the question: "What's the story here?" To answer this question, people usually aske a slightly different question:"What's a story here?" sensemaking is about coherence, how events hang together, certainty that is sufficient for present purposes, and credibility. Plausibility should not be mistaken for fantasy, however, because a sense that survives has been influenced by the other six properties. Thus plausible sense is constrained by agreements with others, consistency with one's own stake in events, the recent past, visible [or detected] cues, projects athe are demonstrably under way, scenarios that are familiar, and actions that have tangible effects. When one or more of these sources of grounding disappears, stories may strain credibility, leave to many cues un-addressed, or be impossible to compose, in which case people begin to lose their grasp.
- "Enactment ... means to gain some sense of what one is up against, as when one asks questions, tries a negotiating gambit, builds a prototype to evoke reactions, makes a declaration to see what response it pulls, or probes something to see how it reacts."
There's a bit more to sensemaking, than just making sense of things. I consider that sensemaking more or less lies behind what Lawrence & Nohria (2002) call the third drive (D3), to understand the world and find meaning. Thus could be fundemental to virtually all human activity.
Also, in my opinion because sensemaking is social, it is vunerable to the influnce of political and media forces. Your compliance with a group's sensemaking will depend on how your sensemaking matches the group consensus and the force of social, political or coersion applied.
Sensemaking isn't truth, or even complete. As Weick points out above, it only needs to be plausible and 'agreed' to be a working proposition. Even a working proposition can get you killed, or save your life -- When you get the right one. Which is why sensemaking is probably one of the deepest ingrained survival skills we brought from the savanna. I wasn't there, so I can't prove that.
- Lawrence, P.R. & Nohria, N. (2002) DRIVEN: How Human Nature Shapes Our Choices, Edn, Boston, MA, Jossey-Bass.
- Weick, Karl E. (1995) Sensemaking in Organizations, SAGE.
- Weick, Karl E. (1999) Sensemaking as an organizational dimension of global change. In WEICK, K.E. (Ed.) Making Sense of the Organization. Oxford, UK, Blackwell Publishers.
Labels: decision, enactment, flow, holistic, identity, retrospective, sensemaking, social context, synergy, system, wholistic