Making it easier to do great work. Hacking all things stupid.

SenseMaking Is Our Way Out

Garry VanPatter, Future Strong Hero, tells us how

HeroIconSmallGarry VanPatter, Future Strong Hero
Garry VanPatter is Co-Founder of Humantific, a new breed of
SenseMaking-based Transformation Consultancy, and believes that
SenseMaking has become the 21st century fuel for ChangeMaking.
He’s co-author of the new book, Innovations Methods Mapping,
which demystifies the innovation process.

Future Strong Hero Series: Insights from top leaders, change makers,
and thought leaders who are creating better, bolder tomorrows.

• • • • • • • • • • •
Beginnings: My partner, Elizabeth Pastor, and I met while working with
TED founder Richard Saul Wurman, a pioneer in the sense-making business.
Elizabeth’s graduate degree thesis focused on how to facilitate inclusion,
which is the foundation of everything we do.

SenseMaking 101
We teach people how to make sense of the complexity that’s swirling
around them. Our work is based on the creative problem-solving insights
of W.J.J. Gordon, who created Synectics. He realized that there were two
different processes going on as we try to create and innovate.

There’s sense-making, which is making the strange familiar. (For
example, how we understand how to use new technologies, or how we
navigate a city in a foreign country.) Then there’s strange-making,
making something that seems familiar unique, different, and stand out
from the rest. (Company and product branding are good examples of this —
why one phone or one toothbrush is different from another.)

Most change consulting work is sense-making for leaders, managers,
and workers — where we help make the strange (disruptions, changes,
challenges) familiar to everyone and easier to execute.

The challenge is that most organizational and project leaders are trying
to solve things by assuming they know what the problem is before they
begin. We teach people that there are four levels of design problem-
, and Level 3: Organizational Transformation, and Level 4:
Social Transformation, require the most questioning of all the things
we think we ‘know’ about the problem. Many leaders have a difficult
time questioning their own assumptions about the challenges they
want help with.

Also: We’ve found that not every organizational leader is in love with
the idea of clarity. Many are into the spin thing — they want you to
see things their way. They can’t let go of the assumptions they’ve built
into the problem they’ve asked us to solve. Then you have an Emperor’s
New Clothes thing going on.

Human-centered design is delivering on empathy. In organizational
design and change, there’s still a lot of work to be done on empathy —
understanding that people have different thinking styles, different
ways of processing information.

SenseMaking in Organizations
Most organizational leaders already know that innovation is important.
But what they struggle with is how to make it real — how to maximize
and harness all the brainpower within their organizations.

First, we use a tool to help people surface their thinking style preferences.
You can’t do anything around change-making unless people deal with
their thinking styles. Those thinking styles are connected to what we do
everyday. Super simplified: Some people prefer divergence [expand,
broaden, explore], and some prefer convergence [narrow, focus, prioritize,

Most organizations have mostly convergent thinkers — people who are
biased toward and place the most value on making decisions and acting
quickly. Leaders tend to treat convergence as the highest form of thinking.

But an era of innovation requires constant change, adaption, invention,
creation, agility — divergent thinking.

We help companies connect those two kinds of thinking. The convergent
thinkers [deciding, acting] need the divergent thinkers [expanding,
reimagining], and the divergent thinkers need the convergent thinkers.

Tough Choices Ahead for Leaders
Most leaders lack or need additional support in three specific areas:
• The ability to co-create in real time, across disciplines
• Greater empathy — how to get close to the people and the work
that needs to get done
• Visualizing problems and solutions

Too many leaders think these very complex needs can be solved with
a half-day workshop. The challenge is that fifty percent of adult
education is helping the person unlearn all that they think they already
know. That takes time and discipline.

TED talks, books, workshops are fine — but those are mindshift experiences.
What’s needed are skillshift experiences. That’s the piece in the middle
that’s missing in most organizations. Which leads ultimately to culture shifts.

VanPatter Strongisms
• SenseMaking is the way out and through all difficult changes
• SenseMaking begins with unlearning — letting go of ‘knowing’ what
you think the problem is and what you think the solution should be
• SenseMaking is creating new skillshift experiences

Institute for the Future research found that SenseMaking is one of the
top ten 2020 skills for everyone who works
Jensen research found that business is avoiding SenseMaking so much,
that it’s as if companies are at war with their workforce

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