We Rep [Ideas]

Liminal Minded: Insights and Sensemaking Research

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Online insights are as liquid as currency, their velocity of circulation – incredible. Insights are no plaything, forming and acting upon them effects industry structures at the core. Their mere utterance gels prior assumptions and triggers a succession of indirect and direct mimicry. Why? People are genuinely curious and suffer from time pressure to be accurate and objective. Which has resulted in an insights market and industry that rewards accuracy over ingenuity.

Insights by nature are descriptive and reflective – retrospective of lived experiences. Insights are the past. They have been separated from life. To exist as unpredictable patterns the may or may not fully characterize the “real world” or persist as perceived.

The list of problems and challenges organizations and consultancies face in managing and applying insight continue to grow. This list is by no means definitive but intends to describe what we have been seeing around us lately.

Insight Speed & Complexity: Organizations believe they are working from a complex abundance of insights at an increasing rate, that they are diverse, independent and conflicting – and at times their insights are not insights at all. The pressure to categorize, prioritize (simplify) and validate dominates the conversation as opposed to getting at the heart of the matter. How does ‘what is going on’, effect what you desire to be?

The Same Insights: Organizations often work form the same cues, and the same insights from the same reports and the same consultancies. Consultancies facing time restraints carry over insights from project to project from client to client. This creates a self-reinforceing false reality and homogenous actionable intelligence at the organizational level, and a lameness that is visible form the shelf.

Inherited insights – Often projects, products and categories come equipped with bias toward the past and dominant insights that reinforce the known and safe. They are often separated from their original time, expired but treated anew.

Invisible Insights: In some cases insights are so proprietary they are guarded, unknown and un-presented to other departments in the organization and/or consultants – presumably to have them validated or confounded externally. The time taken to gather validation intelligence on existing insights may cost valuable time to act on them effectively.

Insight Translation and Application: Drawing value from out of scope, irrelevant or intangible ‘inactionable’ insights is to resource heavy – aka time to unravel and rethink old mental models. If they do not fit with the current mental model of the market or consumer, and they are cast aside.

Navigating Mis-information – Mistaking repetition and self-similarity as truth or validation. Aging Insights have resulted in a loss of their meaning – and relevancy over time.

Identification of Trusted Sources: Where insights come from is unpredictable. True insight expertise – the awareness, recognition and interpretation of phenomenon and what it means- in the organization may not reflect institutional roles and positions – how do we make sense of where trusted sources are located. This breeds staff hesitation (silence) and unhealthy internal competition as opposed to creative cooperation.

Insight Disbelief and Disregard: The insights and processes are becoming contradictory, trust and belief is bleeding out. The inaccuracy of the processes in the real world occupies our emotional intelligence when it should be ‘feeling opportunity’ – sensing valuable cues for action. Clients want insights to be singular in their validity but as a reflection of the real world, insights could and should complicate and contradict each other to accurately describe reality + texture

These problems are symptomatic of more than they solutions they seek. The imperative to describe and validate the past, present and future has engaged tension between hesitations and over eagerness about change, insecurity and confusion associated with ambiguity. These problems stem from an over objectification of “the insight” where we wish to be ‘accurate.’ Insights have become ‘processed’ from perspectives of existing evaluation techniques to control, predict and guide the outcomes of their application in order to ‘de-risk’. Overly fetishized instrumentation, metrics and measures have become the source of confidence in decision-making.

The same mental model forces insight selection, categorization and prioritization according to their propensity to maintain and stabilize existing structures. Decision-making driven by ‘untended’ routine, reason and rationality, can be costly, as the reasonable and rational mind too works from incomplete information. These inherited frameworks presuppose what worked before will work now, in addition to imposing fatal illusions of accuracy. A much different approach is required.

The problem may be in the process, but it isn’t the process, there is nothing wrong with desiring accuracy. Insight accuracy isn’t the objective, creating a workable level of certainty in order to shape environment is.

Sensemaking attempts to socially approach complexity and ambiguity through the continual act of cohering and shared view of the world to better reflect its changing structure, behavior and relationships. Much like insights, cues in sensemaking signify unthought-of rules-of-order. While reality is under construction – insight is the direct experience of which perceived rules of the past are stressing, or are under pressure and cue toward the yet-to-be.

Sense and Insight are at once lived and invented – Insights without context do not make sense, they suffer from loss of both inherit and intended meaning. Meaning, the greater the distance between the sensing of an insight, recognition of our aspirational position it can reinforce, and the capability required to quickly respond, the greater the distance is to embody, enact and reify that insight.

Zvi Lanir in Journal of Strategic studies states “Bold action is also adaptive because it shapes that which is emerging.”

Building off this statement Karl E. Weick in “Sensemaking in Organizations” continues:

Events are shaped toward those capabilities the bold actor already has. With this twist accuracy becomes reflexive. The actor who knows what he or she can do, and who shapes the environment so that it needs precisely those capabilities, comes close to perfect accuracy. People construct that which constructs them, except both constructions turn out to be one and the same thing. Although individuals may be blind to this dynamic, what they see as a result of its unfolding looks eminently sensible. Both the construction and the perception reflect the same assumptions about capability. Because accuracy is automatic, it drops out of consideration.

Here Weick highlights the importance of sensible action – and a simplicity that has been lost in the current mental model for ‘getting there’, perhaps the ‘scientification of insights’ – the cautious pursuit of descriptions – have offset our confidant ability to deliberately make conditions happen by enacting them. Here we may organize sensemaking of insights around the qualities and characteristics of our capabilities and the state of affairs we wish to inform– assuming we have that story and an idea of our role within.

To explain sensemaking as reflexive enactment Weick and others turn to the words of E.M Forester:

“How do I know what I think until I see what I say?”

This highly introspective statement captures the intimacy and interdependency between thought and action, concept and percept, identity and performance, and performance and feedback insofar as it related to making sense. It replaces prediction, paradox and paralysis with an imperative to first actualize through self-awareness gleaned from bold actions, and second through these actions amplify a new and coherent nature of things.
Weick continues to characterize good sensemaking sensibilities:

If accuracy is not necessary in sensemaking then what is necessary? The answer is something that preserves plausibility and coherence, something that is reasonable, something that embodies past experience and expectations, something that resonates with other people, something that can be constructed retrospectively but can also be used prospectively, something that captures both feeling and thought, something that allows for embellishment to fit current oddities, something that is fun to construct, what is necessary in sensemaking is a good story.

These necessities by default surface the beliefs individuals have of themselves and their role in the organization, the organization and its role in the lives of people through self-fulfilling stories and organizational myths that become real.
This refocuses innovation and insight away from ‘careers’ toward their original purpose – genuine and sustained value creation and organizational ‘becoming.’ The difference is between being an insight and collecting them.

Organizing for Sensemaking Insights Research

Full Spectrum awareness: Sensemaking at first glance may not appear sensible (Wieck), however it may under the construct of rationale based on new knowledge. Open up to new explanations, theories and the ‘believable strange.’ Question hard held assumptions and why you disregard. Prepare teams for this challenge. It isn’t easy.

Making sense involves going beyond the directly observable the definition of Imagination is that which is ‘beyond the senses ‘– it is also a primary mechanism that allows people to make sense of the world. Updating mental models through deliberate and sensible imagination to at once understand and prescribe the new environment will prove a source of compelling storytelling and sustained differentiation.

Exercise your power of definition: The purpose of sense making is to make retrospective sense of situations, organizations and the material world it doesn’t tell you what to do next. Cultivate the courage to imagine, create define, and articulate your future.

Stories stimulate: As a mechanism that organizes the world and ones place in that world. Stories assemble seen and aspirational information in a reasonable way. Stories orient, align motivate people to curate and filter insights towards the actualization of the story.

Ambition alters belief: As opposed to the other way around. For Managers who are curious, passionate, and confidently occupy and author new spaces will tell you insight is not about accuracy and perfection. It is about courage and ability to understand the character of change and author visions to experience and enable first hand.

Capability translates Insights – Aligning insights to the affordances of your capabilities selects, amplifies and extends favorable emerging conditions that fit to you and your story. Action suppresses ambiguity and redirects the compositionality of meaning toward the actor.

Enacted insights should explain – Actions should contribute to reinforcing your story, shaping conditions through enacting insight. To produce the world is to tell a true story and subs anticipation and visioning with real organizational actualization.

Shorten the distances between the recognition of insight, the understanding of insights, their role in the trajectory of the organizational narrative and the action they inspire. Listen down. Listen up. Listen through and thoroughly.

Shift from failing to learning – Insights and environmental cues are experienced and felt. Insightfulness and Sensemaking are not discrete – they are both continual processes of learning and development. Even if sensemaking does not end in a clear decision-making it will undoubtedly end in an understanding of the kind of research that should take place.


Written by rthomas

February 27, 2012 at 5:00 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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