In a Vistage webinar on Friday, Dave Nelson commented that in the list of required leadership skills for successful leaders, perhaps the most important one in this moment, beyond, vision, drive, effective decisionmaking, ability to attract and retain top talent, etc. was sensemaking. His talk was about AI, but this captured my attention immediately. What does Dave Nelson mean by sensemaking?

This sent me on a deep dive. “Sensemaking is literally the act of making sense of an environment, achieved by organizing sense data until the environment “becomes sensible” or is understood well enough to enable reasonable decisions”* In other words, if we all see things through our own mental filters, how do we make sense of the environment which is changing rapidly?

So now, there is a science of sensemaking. Oh boy, one more thing to learn and fast! I’ll give you a few references at the end of this post, and yes, you could just put it in ChatGPT, which I will do for my own amusement later. First, I am noodling through the literature.

The person most often quoted as making sense of sensemaking was Karl Weick’s, Sensemaking in Organizations. 1995. There have been many scholarly studies and models tested since then including how to make sense of COVID, which was killing people, closing down societies and threatening our institutions . Assessing what was happening quickly required getting input from many smart people in a safe environment to look at massive amounts of data and assess what is most important, what is relevant, what must be addressed first. While these are all skill sets we expect of leaders, we don’t focus on developing and improving these skills. It is pretty important that we put some time and energy into doing that now.

Here are a couple of short reads:

Sensemaking on organizations:Reflections on Karl Weick and Social Theory  by Laura A. McNamara

Making sense of sensemaking: What it is and what it means for pandemic research By Richard J. Cordes

*Definition of Sensemaking comes from this article


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