SenseMaking: Problem Solving vs Problem Creating

Making sense of the world we live in is an essential skill for survival yet it’s one that’s often overlooked in popular leadership and business commentary.

SenseMaking skills are also notably lacking in the education system but when SenseMaking appeared as one of the top skills for success in the future by the Institute for the Future (IFTF) and a number of other future focused organisations this important skill started to take centre stage.

According to co founder and principal of Sensanalytics Kailash Awati, SenseMaking isn’t just about looking at facts and figures. It’s not solely about data or taking a logical approach to figuring things out.

Awaki suggests that SenseMaking is more about connecting the dots from a whole range of different sources and coming up with a meaningful result. This process doesn’t always rely on logic, according to Awati it is often much more abstract and ambiguous.

Why is SenseMaking so Important?

As Awati notes, we live in a world that’s flooded with data and according to predictions this is only going to increase in the future. It’s easy to buy into the hype about data science as the all-knowing answer to our problems and questions but the reality is, without the human ability to make sense of it all and put it into a meaningful context, data is just a series of numbers.

SenseMaking is different from data analysis though. For successful data analysis you first need to have a clearly defined problem or hypothesis. Determining the nature of a problem or devising a hypothesis is not a process that uses logic (like analysis does). Instead it often relies on more ambiguous and uncertain information about the world around us.

SenseMaking, especially the ability to look at a complex situation and determine the nature of the problem is a skill that is unfortunately rarely taught in schools, but one that’s essential for living in the complex world of the 21st century.

While data gathering and logical analysis may be increasingly handled by computers in the future, SenseMaking is a skill that machines simply do not have. This makes it inevitable that in the future humans will be relied on when it comes to formulating problems and making meaning from the data provided to them.

It is challenging to teach SenseMaking, but it is a skill that can be learned and improved on by hands on experience. Awati uses the example of hackathons as a way to teach students about SenseMaking.

If you can develop your skills, SenseMaking is a great collaborative activity and it can equip you with skills that can be utilised in a whole range of different situations.


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