Global Sensemaking

Tools for Dialogue and Deliberation on Wicked Problems

A comment at the end of this business week article pointed to this page. The comment said "Cardinal Rule: Process precedes technology."

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Comment by Mark Szpakowski on May 14, 2008 at 18:47
Re Process precedes technology, the best such process I have found is Otto Scharmer's Theory U: Leading From the Future as It Emerges - The Social Technology of Presencing.

I can't overstate how important I think this "social technology" is for projects such as that which we're attempting. This is about really "improving improvement", and paying attention to the source from which our actions, individual and collective, come.
Comment by Jack Park on May 14, 2008 at 19:23
I wrote this comment earlier and forgot to add it. Let me try again. I've been reading up on theory U since you first pointed it out to me. I also have to read up on all the other collective sensemaking "algorithms" since that's part of my thesis project. All the reading suggests to me that there is a kind of pattern language at work in all sensemaking "algorithms", theory U included. I think I see that theory U adds a bit more emphasis on self in the overall pattern. Other than that, theory U seems to add new names to common concepts. Correct me if I missed something.
Comment by Mark Szpakowski on May 14, 2008 at 23:12
There may well be a pattern language to collective sensemaking, and I would be interested in seeing that. Theory U's emphasis on the self, "the inner place from which we operate both individually and collectively" (and so you need a word that applies to that same place collectively - presencing is the term Scharmer applies to the quality of awareness in this place), as being what leadership (individual or collective) shifts in order to affect change, is central. I think also what it brings is a systematic practice. It's not just a theory.

Otto Scharmer has presented modules on Theory U at the Shambhala Institute for a number of years (I attended one year), and as a result has entered into collaboration with Arawana Hayashi, who does bugaku and dance and movement. The idea is to shift that place in a profound way, and so you need more than intellectual intelligence to reach it. So kind of fundamental breakdown -- suspension/presencing -- emergence needs to take place.

I find the originality and usefulness of the Theory U approach is that it brings the same depth of collective practice to collective being and action that was previously encountered only in the realm of individual action. The examined act flows from the examined actor; without that practice of examination the act may be blind.

But you know, Mao Tse-Tung also said it in On Contradiction: external contradictions form the conditions of change, while internal contradictions are the basis of change. (Mao was a closet Heraclitean-Hegelian-Marxist-Taoist.)

If, for example, we were to form an action team, to really try to apply these sensemaking tools to affect the world, we would be well served by going through a collective sensemaking process such as that provided by Theory U or by a very few other disciplines (such as Toke Muller's Art of Hosting).
Comment by Jack Park on May 14, 2008 at 23:35
I started to think, on first read, that Art of Hosting was somehow similar to The World Cafe (TWC) until I read that they acknowledge The World Cafe as an instance of their methods. Need to go back to the cafe book to see if the relationship really exists. In any case, I still see a pattern language at work here. That really seems to be well worth teasing out of the literature.

A useful observation, first noted to me by the TWC book is that there is a need to break up talkative contributors who tend to suck up the bandwidth in a sensemaking activity. They are typically identified as those who make frequent posts (well, tongue ensconced deeply in cheek here...). TWC handles this by setting time limits for each table, followed by forced circulation of table members to other locations and dialogues.

A common aspect of the pattern is the quest for the right question(s).

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