Strategic sensemaking and Enterprise 2.0 technologies

The increased importance of sensemaking will prove to be one of the central drivers for Enterprise 2.0 technologies adoption. Organizational theorist Karl Weick positions sensemaking as one of the central tasks in organizations. Dan Russell at Creating Passionate Users provides a nice definition of sensemaking that will serve as a useful starting point:

Sensemaking is in many ways a search for the right organization or the right way to represent what you know about a topic. It’s data collection, analysis, organization and performing the task. [Sensemaking 3]

The value of the sensemaking notion in organizational settings is that it highlights the active requirement for managers and leaders to construct sensible accounts out of ambiguous, ambivalent, equivocal, and conflicting data. In a world (imagine Don LaFontaine here) characterized by significant technology, organizational, and strategic change, the problem of sensemaking becomes more acute.

It occurs to me that there is an useful analogy to be made between sensemaking and open source development practices; in particular with the adage that “with enough eyes, all bugs are shallow.” Instead of counting on the insights of a mythological strategic genius, you distribute the problem to the wider organization. Many of the more interesting strategic planning processes (think scenario based planning and future search conferences, for example) are ultimately grounded in that notion.

One of the attractions in Enterprise 2.0 technologies is that they make these strategies more feasible and scalable. Blogs, wikis, tagging, etc. allow participation to scale beyond what face-to-face methods can support. They make it possible to generate and organize more extensive raw materials and inputs to planning/sensemaking processes. Wikis with good version tracking and refactoring capabilities make it both safer and easier to generate and work through alternative representations/sensemakings.

Realizing this sensemaking potential will require brokering some introductions and partnerships. Those adept in the techniques are likely to not be versed in the ways that the technologies reduce or eliminate some of the key barriers to successfully using the techniques. Those who understand the technologies may not be aware that the techniques exist, much less that they could benefit from technological improvement. One starting point I would suggest is for those promoting Enterprise 2.0 technologies to investigate the sensemaking planning techniques and practices and map points where the technologies enable, simplify, or improve the techniques.

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