Sensemaking is not about truth and getting it right, instead it is about the continued redrafting of an emerging story so that it becomes more comprehensive, incorporates more of the observed data and is more resilient in the face of criticism.

Organizing and the Process of Sensemaking

Sensemaking, according to Weick, Sutcliffe and Obstfeld, “involves the ongoing retrospective development of plausible images that rationalize what people are doing.” In other words, we look back and ascribe meaning and rationale to our actions and tie that into various narratives we are weaving. Why did we do what we did and what does it mean that we did it? Some decisions or actions are higher-stakes than others. Whether deciding what to eat for lunch or whether or not to take a new job, each day we must make make thousands of decisions (around 35,000 according to some estimates). Some decisions require little thought, we might act impulsively or have absolute clarity (option A or option B). In other instances, deciding can be quite laborious, even unpleasant.

Whatever the stakes, in our decision-laden world, the emphasis can be on making the “right” decision rather than making the decision right, as if the decisions exist in isolation. Viewing decisions in context and how they relate to the larger narratives that are unfolding can help lend clarity to that decision making process (and can perhaps lead to better decisions or sometimes utter paralysis).

The Quest can be a great way to hone ones sensemaking skills.  The simple practice of noticing more or being aware means that one will have more “observed data” to incorporate into their “emerging story.” Because during the Quest, dozens of decisions will be made, one’s story of the Quest constantly evolves as a result, it can be a great way (in a relatively low risk setting) to shed light and to better understand one’s own sensemaking process.

Curious to learn more about sensemaking and the decision making process? Read Weick, Sutcliffe and Obstfeld very interesting article, “Organizing and the Process of Sensemaking,” which appeared in the Journal of Organization Science and was later reprinted in the Handbook of Decision Making.