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.