The value of sensemaking

Discovering and interpreting beliefs in groups

Ever been part of a conversation that seemed to revolve around the same issue over and over again? Or a meeting where some people keep diving into details and others want to stay more high-level? As consultants, we often come across these kinds of sessions. We noticed that these situations can lead to tension, slowing down and (healthy) conflict. Over time, we learned how to tackle these situations by using sensemaking, a technique that offers us the right insights to guide a workshop or decision-making. 

What do we mean with sensemaking?

Sensemaking is what the word says, making sense of the environment. Its purpose is to get an understanding of the group and elements in play. These could be perspectives, opinions, preferences, stakes and/or beliefs. We search for the things that are not said. Gut feelings, worries or other forms of concerns. Making these concerns explicit and visible provides valuable information, helping the group make the right decisions or get to effective action. For us, as facilitators, it means making sense of the thoughts, opinions and emotions of the group. Let’s clarify with an example.

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Systems Thinking: define the problem, results and behaviour

Great landing, wrong airport

I read this phrase a while ago and it got to me. It fitted the projects I was working on. <Enter attentional bias>.  These organisations I was working with were building great solutions (technically). Unfortunately, not always what their customers were expecting. It confirmed for me that Systems Thinking is really important. Combined with some new insights from behavioural sciences, you will land at the right airport.

Small side confession: reading this phrase triggered two things in me.  

  • A memory of that time I planned a fun getaway to Mallorca with a friend but ended up at the wrong ‘Weeze airport’. Which made me think of changing this title to “Great holiday plan, wrong airport”. 
  • The realisation that this phrase beautifully articulates the million-dollar question: ‘Which problem are we actually solving with this solution?’  

Although the story of the first is – in hindsight – brilliant, I’ll focus on the second one in this post.  

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If something is too complex to understand, it must be wrong

Recently, I was invited for a podcast interview by my brilliant colleague João Rosa. It was my first podcast interview (yes I was excited and nervous), and it has been keeping my mind busy ever since I received that calendar invite. The idea was that we would discuss a heuristic and see where we’d end up after 30 minutes. The heuristic for my interview was ‘If something is too complex to understand, it must be wrong.’ 

My first reaction was “Yes! That’s actually a heuristic I regularly use myself; what a coincidence!”. As hours and days went by, I started to notice that something was changing in my convictions. After some careful consideration and hours of contemplating, I can now say that my expert opinion regarding this heuristic is: “It depends”. (Ha! Surprising answer for a consultant, right?)

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How my team manages to stay connected in times of isolation

The jokes must go on

It sounds like a paradox. Contradictio in terminis, as the linguistic in me likes to put it. Staying connected in times of isolation. Now that most of us are working remotely, teams need to find ways to stay connected. 

I’d like to think that times like these also bring opportunities for us to get creative, learn from each other and rise above ourselves, so let’s share ideas and experiences as much as possible. 

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Unleashing Social Super Powers – Can I train my brain to be better at using System 2?

Let me start with a short recap of my previous post. The reason we got to this point. I talked about the difference between being a true expert and relying on expert intuition. Sharing the struggles of a millennial social scientist that often gets asked if we can train our brain to be better at using System 2. Because, well, I’m going on stage talking about this stuff, so I better have an answer and step-by-step guide for how to achieve this.

And then I have to disappoint by saying that there is no such list of exercises and training. That I do have some suggestions, but it does not come in a ‘5 easy steps to reach your full System 2 potential – template’

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2 days in the life of a DDD Foundations trainee

“Once we start judging, we stop learning.” I’ve always been a big supporter of continuous learning, and as a social scientist I know how easily we get trapped in cognitive bias and heuristics. That’s why I’m convinced that it’s crucial to continuously challenge your own perspectives, opinions and judgements. 

That is why I decided to join the DDD Foundations training at Xebia. 

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Trust your gut. But sometimes, think twice.

Let’s celebrate heuristics where we can. Especially in software development.

I’ve been on stage quite a few times now, where I usually talk about tackling socio-technical complexity. There’s a lot of focus on social dynamics, human interaction and communication in these talks, but there was always a part where I focused on the more technical side of things. Just to be sure. After all, I’m at a tech-conference, so I must include techy stuff, right? (Talking about cognitive bias…)

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