The power of social sensemaking

The power of social sensemaking

/ 02:04 AM April 05, 2024

The power of social sensemaking


What is sensemaking?

A concept popularized by organizational theorist Karl Weick, sensemaking entails making sense of the world around us. My interest in this concept grew significantly after engaging with various individuals, including CEOs, and noting the clarity and thoughtfulness evident in their responses. It wasn’t just about having the right answers; they also knew how to use the information effectively.


During a visit to Singapore in 2017, I participated in a brief mindfulness training, sparking reflections on the interconnectedness of mindfulness, sensemaking and decision-making. I observed how some individuals could skillfully assemble information, akin to solving a puzzle, even amid a flurry of events. This experience fueled my curiosity about the thought process behind their clarity.


Why is sensemaking important?

In a rapidly evolving marketplace, the ability to make sense of information becomes paramount. Grasping intricacies provides a guide for navigating through a complex web of events and perspectives, preventing individuals from feeling overwhelmed. It empowers individuals to decipher ambiguous situations and make well-informed decisions. Whether in business, personal relationships or daily life, having an understanding of what’s happening enables strategic and effective responses without losing sight of the bigger picture.

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Consider possessing the “right to win” in a situation—having the knowledge or environment to lead—yet lacking an understanding of the context. This is where sensemaking acts as a bridge, connecting the possession of the right information with comprehension of its implications.

How does sensemaking work?

Sensemaking involves the process of organizing, interpreting and attributing meaning to diverse elements such as data, events, emotions or experiences. This results in valuable context-specific comprehension and even insights. Unlike the pursuit of a single, objective truth, sensemaking acknowledges that individuals construct their understanding based on their unique perspectives, experiences and cognitive frameworks.


Sensemaking empowers individuals to navigate unfamiliar situations by leveraging existing knowledge, identifying patterns and connecting disparate pieces of information. It serves as both a cognitive and social process, enabling individuals to construct coherent narratives and respond effectively to the complexities of the world. In essence, sensemaking provides a mental framework that facilitates understanding and guides decision-making—a process through which information is transformed into meaningful comprehension.

What are the pitfalls of sensemaking?

Sensemaking can be hindered by personal biases and assumptions, causing misunderstandings. This occurs when a group experiences “groupthink,” where everyone shares the same perspective, or when there’s a lack of diverse opinions.

Challenges also arise when people avoid disagreeing to maintain politeness within the group. Authority bias can influence sensemaking, particularly when someone influential expresses an opinion early on. Additionally, cultural influences play a role in shaping our understanding.

Another challenge emerges when information is inaccurate or incomplete. Managing a heavy workload with an abundance of information can overwhelm individuals, making it difficult to grasp data, especially when time is limited. This can lead to oversimplification and overlooking nuances in the presented data.

What is social sensemaking?

While individual sensemaking is impactful, its social dimension enhances its influence. Engaging with others through conversations, coffee meetings or participating in conferences enriches our understanding. These interactions open doors to diverse perspectives and the wealth of collective intelligence.

Networking or having a casual coffee chat with a colleague can reveal subtleties not evident in formal reports. Attending conferences exposes us to varied approaches and insights, providing opportunities to learn from different industries.

The essence lies not just in possessing one’s sensemaking abilities but in appreciating how others interpret the same information.

Moreover, attending a conference with proven speakers from different industries is akin to someone arranging a meeting for you to tap into their opinions on what has been troubling you the most, attracting new sources of revenues and profits.

By recognizing and valuing diverse sensemaking approaches, collective intelligence flourishes, empowering groups to navigate uncertainties more effectively. This creates a ripple effect, shaping a more informed and collaborative path forward.

How can sensemaking be improved?

To enhance your sensemaking skills, move beyond traditional learning materials and actively seek diverse sources of information. Foster a culture of curiosity and continuous learning. Engage in meaningful conversations with individuals who provide varying viewpoints. Attend workshops, webinars and industry events to gain insights on where to focus and discover different ways of interpreting information.

In the area of social sensemaking, active listening takes center stage. Pay close attention not only to the words being spoken but also to how others process information. The ability to discern patterns, identify key influencers and understand underlying dynamics contributes significantly to a more comprehensive sensemaking process.

How do you put sensemaking into practice?

Companies adept at sensemaking often excel in decision-making. They discern market trends, comprehend customer needs and navigate industry shifts with agility. Essentially, sensemaking positions them ahead of the competition, empowering them to secure market share and surplus. On the contrary, organizations lacking in sensemaking may resort to decisions based on guesswork. This can lead to missed opportunities and in some instances, result in strategic drift. —CONTRIBUTED

Josiah Go is chair and chief innovation strategist of consulting firm Mansmith and Fielders Inc.

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He chairs the 15th Mansmith Market Masters Conference, where an all-CEO panel will delve into sensemaking as part of the “5 Skills of Master Strategists” on May 8 at The Fifth at Rockwell. Details available at

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