Musings on designing experiences & (re)engineering complexity

Jun 2022

Sensemaking: Learning and Working

To some of us, “sensemaking” isn’t work. It’s an adventure… a self-fueled, sometimes even self-directed, path of discovery.

When every “job to be done” is looked at thru the lens of sensemaking, it makes sense why some folks don’t find pleasure in work, it isn’t their sense - Source

Been sitting on an intersection between working and learning - sensemaking. Sensemaking is a term worth marking this street post due to its ability to signal disorganization and profitability no matter now it branches. Within this intersection is the curb called learning, and it is often on this curb many trip or slope into the success or failure of approaches, tools, and even personnel performance.

In its most basic definition, sensemaking describes a method or process one uses to make order and understanding of the world around them. And when wrapped into one of the contexts in which Avanceé serves - coaching and training - sensemaking is a deliberate effort to confront, and make as plain as possible, patterns which lead to decision-making-behaviors. Decision-making-behaviors ends up being what most folks call the results of their work. And these can be empowered or enhanced by one’s ability to learn, adapt, and remix patterns for various outcomes.

Of the many efforts to aid in sensemaking over the years, one which has found a niche leveraging whiteboards and sketchnotes. Within a narrated or collaborative whiteboard, the physical act of placing and moving stickies, sketching/inking, and navigating creates pathways which are uniquely the viewer’s/user’s. And if active in participating, those neurological links create the opportune spaces for learning to happen (and be validated through questions, experimentation, etc.) to all parties. Learning isn’t lost for those who aren’t sketching. Even the audience finds a way to thread themselves into the shapes and connectors - often finding a means to contribute insights the canvas-workers might not notice.

The sketchnote’s most valuable placement would likely be to those putting their “hands to the canvas” so to speak. However, all of who engage the canvas are postured to benefit. For example, a case management flow from years back, was a solo-exercise towards keeping track with a conversation regarding conceptual features of a case management platform. Once it was shown to the discussion group, the concept became something all could actualize, putting stakeholders in the posture of having to make a decision of whether to go forward with the feature implementation or not (there was enough information in the sketch to drive further prompts). The sketch accented the lessons project participants already had, and the sensemaking approach illuminated routes for items an experience designer sees during ideation, not only what the business might regard as plausible.

So then, regarding working, what are the plausible outcomes? Often, Avanceé is addressing work from the perspectives of those who may be further removed from the outputs, but not the results of the work (outcomes). Here, we establish a “work framework” consisting of three questions:

  • what is the singular goal?
  • what are the three most prominent issues?
  • what reassures do you have in-hand to address those (three) issues?

These questions simplify focus towards defined and measurable outcomes. For example, when there is no longer suitable work occurring, we’ll often hear issues sounding less “here’s the measurable not being met” and more “here’s what I would like to see them do.” Our habits for suitable work (too?) often resort to symbolic gestures and methods, rather than encouraging and embracing alternative levels of connective tissue. As a coach, the goal isn’t to “do this like I do,” but to provoke “what questions about this thing invites curiosities leading to decision-making-behaviors.

What does this look like when the lesson is “how can I better leverage this tool?” It is simply, “what questions are you asking this tool to help you answer?” If those questions, then the tool might be part of the path towards getting to those outcomes. If not, funnel intentions and expectations into a malleable format. Such as shared in our past sensemaking article:

  • Structures (intake, not immediate)
  • Synthesis (give shape to what’s in hand)
  • Sharing (ownership only if necessary)
  • Search (machines calculate, humans find insight)

From that format, or even the goals-issues-resources one shared earlier, learning and working becomes less about “do this in a way do it,” and more open-ended; attaching outcomes to a embodied sense of achievement and work.