Source: AsiaOne (SG), Jan 2016

The modern equivalent of map making is sensemaking, a term used by pioneering organisational psychologist Karl Weick to describe how organisations deal with uncertain or ambiguous situations.

Sensemaking is not just analysis but an act of creativity, so wrote four professors – Ancona, Malone, Orlikowski and Senge – of MIT’s Sloan School in a 2007 article on leadership published in the Harvard Business Review.

Let me quote from their article, for it helps explain what good thinking on the future looks like.

Business leaders, the four MIT professors observed, are constantly trying to understand the contexts they operate in. They want to know how new technologies reshape industry, how changing cultural expectations shift the role of business in society, how globalisation of labour markets affect recruitment and expansion plans.

This process of sensemaking, they note, is like cartography because “what we map depends on where we look, what factors we choose to focus on, and what aspects of the terrain we decide to represent. Since these choices will shape the kind of map we produce, there is no perfect map of the terrain. Therefore, making sense is more than an act of analysis; it’s an act of creativity”.

“The key for leaders is to determine what would be a useful map given their particular goals and then to draw one that adequately represents the situation the organisation is facing at that moment. Executives who are strong in this capability know how to quickly capture the complexities of their environment and explain them to others in simple terms.

“This helps ensure that everyone is working from the same map, which makes it far easier to discuss and plan for the journey ahead. Leaders need to have the courage to present a map that highlights features they believe to be critical, even if their map doesn’t conform to the dominant perspective,” they wrote.

The success of sensemaking thus hinges not just on the quality of the map the leaders come up with, but also on their ability to help everyone else read and work off the same map. That is a challenge not to be underestimated because society is made up of individuals with different abilities and different interests.

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