Getting started with sensemaking by asking: "What is sensemaking?"


The things to know about sensemaking—gosh, it's a funny word—are that it a) is always happening, b) is as natural as breathing, and c) is something we should do more deliberately, at least at work.

Think back to when you started the job you're in now: how did you figure out what you were responsible for, or what you were supposed to be doing, or who you should meet, or where the political lines were drawn? Classic sensemaking.

More sensemaking: Unless you started yesterday, what you understood your job to be the week you started compared to what it is today ... is different because the context changed ... and continues to change.

"The importance of sensemaking," writes Deborah Ancona in summarizing the idea of a trio of researchers, "is that it enables us to act when the world as we knew it seems to have shifted."

And since our work worlds are constantly shifting (COVID? New boss? New priority? New regulation?), becoming aware of sensemaking as a skill—one that can be practiced and improved—is important given the challenge of acting in changing contexts.

There are many definitions of sensemaking—from the simple to the transcendent—which speaks to the richness of the concept and, to me, the challenge in its approachability so this one from Kenneth Mikkelsen resonated as it crosses boundaries:

Making sense is about gathering impressions, holding them up against familiar experiences, course correction, being open, and not least surrounding ourself with talented people who have big ears and eyes. Those who are able to forage, be critical, and convey meaning. We all do it. Some are just better at it than others.

So here are two good sensemaking questions worth asking more often, even in those moments when it doesn't seem necessary:

  • What's the story?
  • What's going on?

And three more questions from Alan Arnett for group settings, because sensemaking is a valuable social activity, too:

  • What are we solving?
  • Where are we heading?
  • How might we get there?

And then an idea from me on how to get started: Better work right away this morning.

Through The Work is a creativity development studio for healthcare people embracing The Transforming—the always-happening, always-unfolding state of change in your job ... and using it to make more of the change you know should be happening, happen.

The Transforming is the most important professional opportunity of our careers—one that will lead to new job opportunities, real change, and a transformed industry for all of us and everyone else.

My name is Drew Weilage and I work in healthcare, too. At Through The Work, I help people like you make develop a creative practice to do your best work.

Oh, and pep talks! Get a pep talk when you need one: big day, bad day, or any day at all. Text me at 646-450-2465 or send me a note.

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