Art of Sensemaking: The Right Question at the Right Time

In the era of enourmous data, the strategic sensemaking process can be very insightful for market research and customer feedback. It can help us constantly maintain the right balance between actions and retrospections. Sensemaking is the process about how we give meaning to the world around us. If we move to a new neighborhood, we try to make sense of the streets, schools, parks, shopping, and neighbors.  Need for sensemaking arises when we change our place in the world or when the world changes around us.  The world around us is constantly changing, and therefore, designing a strategic sensemaking processes can be truly important for engaging into meaningful conversations. According to a very insightful research by Lotte Luscher and Marianne Lewis (2008), in general, asking the right type of questions at the right stage of the process is an essential aspect of making sense and having meaningful conversations. These researchers have presented the following framework. 


Linear Questioning to Organize Flux

In the first stage, it is important to surface the basic idea of current situation to organize the flux, and notice the problem. Sensemaking begins with all chaos, all mess. There is no clarity at all. People are stuck with the most basic issues like how do we engage the people, what they might expect from us. The companies try to find some simple answer to these intrinsic questions. Yet, at this stage, they also create a foundation for collaborative sensemaking. After some formal informal observations, they start getting some clues and build a base. From this base, interwoven questioning and sensemaking help managers define a more specific problem. Sparring session, qualitative research and the linear questioning (like, how do we get more customer referrals?) can be helpful in this transition. Encouraging managers to thoroughly explain the issue can help surface their current logic. And, such identification of problem can signify a call to action.

Circular and Reflexive Questioning to be Retrospective and Undersatand the Systemic Implications

After clarifying the problem, further thinking creates dilemma and a sense of paralysis. It implies a choice must be made between polarities each having some costs as well as some valued benefits. This creates a dillima, which requires grappling with multiple solutions, each posing benefits and limitations. At that time, reflexive questioning (like If we have social media presence on twitter, how will it help us resolve the service issues?  If we conduct a survey research, how will we find the influencers?), and some quantitative research  allows one to examine deeper implications.

Strategic Questioning to Create Workable Certainity and Take Action

As we move from a mess to a problem to a dilemma, each stage encouraged deeper exploration toward a more “workable certainty.” Workable certainty signifies that people can never fully grasp intricate situations. Rather, they are always in the process of sensemaking. And, in these later stages, the strategic questioning challenges simplistic solutions, motivating managers to continuously experiment with alternative framings and approaches.

When you just listen, and do not ask the right questions to make sense of an uncertain situation, you can't grab the meaning of what you are listening.  Asking and having conversation is crucial for being a good listener.

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