Issues with Sense-Making

April 29, 2007

I’ve heard quite a bit of discussion in recent times, especially led by Dave Snowden, about the demise of knowledge management in favour of something more akin to sense-making. 

At a recent presentation to VPSCIN by my good mate and fellow birdo Neill Allan from the UK, he talked about sense-making as being reliant on sensory information and interpreting that information in some form.  He stated that we sense-make in the following process; first by trying to categorise (ie it looks like a chair), if we have trouble with that, then we try to pattern-match it, and if we are still trying to make sense of it after that, we will construct a hypothesis and test it.  Sense-making then is less subject to accuracy and is more driven by likelihood – it is more narrative rather than objective in its approach.

I liked that little model but I felt uneasy with it at the time.  Just as discussions with others who say in a Popperian manner “All life is problem-solving”, the act of sense-making appears to be that that there is a strong desire to make sense of it – to do something, to engage and interact and to understand it.

I’ve thought about this a bit since then and am still trying to digest my thoughts.  I feel uncomfortable as a part of me wants to just experience the uneasiness of sense-making and that by solving the problem or understanding the issue or making sense of it, there is a loss.  Sure, there will always be something else then to move on to if we have made sense of an issue – another problem to solve, another issue to explore. 

I guess my main concern is whether the sense-making that has been done is sufficient.  Is it that I am perceiving that people will consider it as accuracy or truth when I know that it is just likelihood?  Or is it that I would actually prefer to play with the issue a bit more, fiddle around with it, look at it from a couple more angles and try to pattern match it a bit better rather than set up an hypothesis to test it and understand it. 

I guess on reflection, that I often feel that I have a pretty good handle on a particular topic (it makes sense to me), but that then someone will say something else and the handle that I had evaporates and I realise that the sense that I had made was an illusion and not adequate.  It means that I need to keep reflecting on what makes sense to me and to engage in dialogue with others to check my sense of it with others and make comparisons. 

Sense-making to me has more gravitas than KM but like KM, it can be superficial and lack depth of understanding of a particular topic.  Just as with KM, it is all in the eye of the beholder as to what is listened to and incorporated into the mind of the actor in the setting (EF Schumaker’s concept of adequatio in his book Guide for the Perplexed). 

Something might make sense to someone but that depends on their particular development, their ability to comprehend a situation, their morals and values, their openness and their curiosity.  Another person might have difficulty understanding the same issue, not because they are less experienced, developed or understanding than the other, but that their thinking on the topic has advanced to another level and they see new dilemmas that require additional sense-making to gain clarity. 

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Futures Exercise – The Dot

April 24, 2007

One of my favourite exercises when conducting futures workshops is “The Dot”.  I was discussing this with good mate and op-ed writer for The Age Stephen McGrail at the pub a while ago and he liked it and thought he might use it in his workshops.  I can’t remember if I sourced it from somewhere or someone else so if anyone can set me right on that, I am quite happy to attribute it!

One of the conceptual models of thinking about the future is that the present is right here, right now and the future extends out from this place elsewhere.   A classic example if the futures cone.  But different people perceive of how the future extends from the present in radically different ways. 

To illustrate this in a workshop setting, I get people to make a dot with a pen on a piece of paper.  I then tell them that this dot represents the present and to then make some other mark on the paper with their pen that represents the future (not getting them to think about it, just represent it).

Some of the things that people come up with are:

  • An arrow emanating from the dot left to right (the optimists have the arrow trending up, the pessimists downward tendency).  Probably about half the crowds that I have presented to would have this. 
  • A circle (the future is all around us – this is often an indigenous perspective). About 10% of the group.
  • A question mark (the unknown) – about another 10 %
  • Another dot (more of the same) – a few and the rest are bits and pieces of the following
  • A bigger dot (more of the same but more of it!)
  • Multiple arrows radiating from the dot (multiplicity of futures)
  • A squiggle (a journey into the future that will not be smooth)

I find it a neat way of showing how people can think about the future quite differently, to open up people’s eyes to other modes of thinking and question the assumptions behind their way of thinking.  Example, what would it mean to me if I thought the future was all around me rather than along a linear trajectory?

I’d be interested in any other ideas that people have when they make a without-thinking representation of the future from “the dot”.


Don Tolman on Improving Yourself Naturally

April 12, 2007

I was fortunate to attend a VPSCIN talk by Don Tolman recently.  He was a most impressive speaker as he related his life story that directed him towards how we can live healthier and more vital lives.  He gave a similar message to others that I have heard and read including Phillip Day, Sherril Sellman, Rob McIntyre, and Samuel Epstein as my family has been on a pretty strong natural health kick over the past few years.  We then went along to his evening session which helped sink in many of the points that he made earlier.

Some of the key points that I obtained from his talk included:

  • You have to honour your ideas – they are a gift and if you do not act on them quickly by writing them down and sharing them, then you dishonour the idea and its potential.
  • We are nothing but tubes and 90% of all diseases can be thought of as clogged tubes
  • Western medicine tends to focus on symptom management rather than finding and dealing with the root cause of illness
  • The healthcare industry uses the language of war and fear to fight diseases
  • The emerging revolution of self education and self care is coming but is still 20 years away from reaching a tipping point
  • To know, to do, to be – gnosis, praxis, entelechis – a never ending cycle of development and empowerment.  As we obtain knowledge, we are empowered to do, which then empowers us “to be” – lifting us then to a higher level of knowing and the cycle continues.
  • The importance of observation and more observation, a period to ponder, then reflect and letting a seed incubate until your imagination takes over and an idea is born
  • And his seven principles of health sound like a pretty good guide for longevity.

He made the caveats that he is not a medical doctor, that he is unable to provide medical advice, and that his views may not be true.  Despite this, his arguments and style of delivery were compelling.   He combined not just interesting views on health but also on using your whole mind as well, to think clearly and differently to the approaches that we are traditionally taught.

What I also found interesting about Don (apart from his dress sense and moustache) were the words that he did not mention.  Words like prevention and paradigm.  He talked about eating wholefoods to stay well and of his radically alternative views towards education and health that go against standard practice. 

I know that some people find this sort of material very difficult to comprehend; it goes against their belief systems and their reliance on the current authority structures in society.  But I believe his message of simplicity and self-education is right on track.  Ten years ago, I would not have been ready to hear the message, but with my own path of self-education, wider reading and even further wider reading, as well as conversations with key learned people, I now feel in a position to better understand the problems that we face as a society and the systemic issues that have been built up to protect key interests and retain the status quo.  We witness the growth in cancer rates, Type II diabetes, obesity, and the push towards certain educational styles that may not be well suited to the future jobs on offer and the life skills required.  It’s not until there are enough people hear the voices of people like Rachel Carson (Silent Spring) and Bill Mollison (Permaculture) – people that railed against the prevailing paradigm and were eventually listened to and acted upon once the weight of evidence and opinion tipped in their favour.


Latest Satirical Cartoons from Scratch Media

April 6, 2007

It’s been a while since I posted – a lot happening in personal and work life at the moment which is precluding me from posting.  All good but just busy!

Thought I would link through this fantastic selection of cartoons by David Pope (better known by his signature Heinrich Hinze).  You can see the latest ones here.

I particularly like the following:

Cartoonists have that wonderful capacity to cut through the litany and pick up key themes and turn them on their head in a way that really tickles my funny bones.