sensemaking

Book Review: The Paradox of Sensemaking

by TOM HOY, Stripe Partners Sensemaking: The Power of Humanities in the Age of the Algorithm Christian Madsbjerg 2017, 240 pp, Hachette Books Excerpt Christian Madsbjerg has done a huge amount to elevate the profile and impact of ethnography in corporate settings. As co-founder of ReD Associates, Madsbjerg makes a consistent and compelling case for ethnographers to set their sights beyond user experience and design to impact decisions at the pinnacle of global organisations. His new book Sensemaking advances his mission further, advocating humanities-based thinking to a much wider business audience. The central analysis feels more even resonant today than when the book was released last year: the power of big data has created a false idol, lulling us into the belief that the algorithm has the capacity to replace critical thinking. What unfolds is a story which is compelling and bold in critique, but strangely conservative and ambiguous in the solutions it prescribes. Silicon Valley and the Renaissance Man [sic] Sensemaking...

Organizational Culture as Lazy Sensemaking: What Ethnographers Can Do about Fundamental Attribution Error

by LAURA A. MCNAMARA, Sandia National Laboratories This essay represents the opinion of the author and not any of her employers, past or present. The Fundamental Attribution Error Lately I’ve been ruminating on the fundamental attribution error, also known as correspondence bias. Think of it as a lazy kind of sensemaking, a just-so story that lets us place more agency in individuals than is probably warranted. It’s a common category error (at least among the Western psych undergrads who volunteer for experimental lab credits) that describes our tendency to attribute undesirable outcomes to individual traits, without attending to the role of situational factors in shaping behavior and decision-making. Victim-blaming is an obvious example of attribution error: Really, what kind of idiot shops at that particular convenience store in that particular neighborhood at 2AM? (Answer: A young single mother who works two jobs, one of which lets her off after midnight, and she knows she’s about to run out of diapers. That’s who.) Fundamental...

How Autoethnography Enables Sensemaking across Organizations

FREDERIK GOTTLIEB SDU Design, University of Southern Denmark WAFA SAID MOSLEH SDU Design, University of Southern Denmark Building on participatory innovation, and taking a personal and analytical autoethnographic approach we set out to investigate how innovative initiatives emerge in the interaction of multiple stakeholders across different organizations. As researchers, we are interested in understanding the lived experience of the lead author, as an inquiry into how new initiatives across organizations are shaped in the interaction between different stakeholders across field sites and organizational levels. The project evolved as a cross-institutional initiative; bridging health-care and engineering education, and while the lead author was initially involved as design consultant, his engagement later resulted in the initiation of cross-disciplinary collaboration between two different local institutions. This paper is thus an attempt to investigate how emerging organizational initiatives and multi-stakeholder innovation become...

Building Bridges between Management and the Workforce

LAURA CIRIA-SUÁREZ A Piece of Pie ROBERT ANDREW BELL A Piece of Pie This paper examines the sales force in a retail setting, considering how Business Anthropology can enlighten managerial practices as a means to defining organisational strategy. Specifically, we look at sales force engagement, motivation and reward – considering how to build bridges in the management-employee relationship and shed light on the sales force culture. We will look at anthropology’s position in relation to key business activities using the service-dominant logic to understand how individual sensemaking and perception of power can influence internal and external relationships in the value creation and realisation process, examining engrained paradigms and using Corporate Ethnography to offer new insights and perceptions on organisational culture, power and hierarchies....

From Inspiring Change to Directing Change: How Ethnographic Praxis Can Move Beyond Research

CAROLYN HOU ReD AssociatesMADS HOLME ReD Associates This paper reflects on the evolving nature of ethnographic praxis in industry and argues that we must move beyond research and towards strategy in order to elevate our praxis, and to deliver real impact and value for our clients. Although this conversation is not new for the EPIC community, there has been a lack of models and examples – even in its tenth year – for how to do so. Taking a project with a medical device company that manufacturers voice prostheses for laryngectomees as a case study, we show how a team of social scientists used “Sensemaking” to determine a new commercial direction for innovation and to design a five-year portfolio strategy for our client. In doing so, we illustrate how our praxis can do more than deliver research insights or design, but also act as the core foundation that defines business processes and strategy....

Sensemaking Methodology: A Liberation Theory of Communicative Agency

by PETER HAYWARD JONES, OCAD University, Toronto [this is one of two posts on sensemaking; see also the companion piece Sensemaking in Organizations by Laura McNamara] I’ve seen a lot of methodology fashion come and go. Before completing a doctorate that really anchored my work in ethnography, I was trained as a cognitive psychologist, designing and evaluating user experience for software and information technology. Since the 1980s, I’ve watched methodologies emerge, some becoming fads and others disappearing from the canon. I’ve learned and applied methods consistent with the theoretical commitments and practices of a methodology. My experience with sensemaking methodology has a long timeline, which relates to how we establish “methodological commitments.” This post explores those commitments and major developments and types of sensemaking methodology. As an early usability methodologist – I was trained in IBM and built a few labs before Microsoft had labs – I explored the full range of applications of lab and...

Sensemaking in Organizations: Reflections on Karl Weick and Social Theory

by LAURA A. MCNAMARA, Sandia National Laboratories [this is one of two posts on sensemaking; see also the companion piece Sensemaking Methodology by Peter Jones] Sensemaking is a term that gets thrown around a lot without much consideration about where the concept came from or what it really means. If sensemaking theory is democratizing, that’s good thing. Most anthropologists recognize that ethnography is a joint co-creation with our interlocutors. Our accounts, as well as the theory, framework and methods underlying those accounts, should be accessible to the people who help us create them. Sociologists recognize this principle, too: in his gorgeous essay Social Things (which you should read if you haven’t already), Charles Lemert reminds us that social science articulates our native social intelligence through instruments of theory, concepts, methods, language, discourse, texts. Really good sociology and anthropology sharpen that intelligence. They’re powerful because they enhance our understanding of what it means to...