The SenseMaker Hat

The SenseMaker Hat

Isn't Sense-Making the Same as Envisioning?

Not at all!

People often think of visioning & sense-making as the same thing - but in my experience, it doesn't actually work that way. I've known great visionaries as much at a loss for what to do next as everyone else when we get to this phase.

I could make a list of dozens of visionaries we've worked with, but the budding Sense-Makers I know of could be counted on the fingers of one hand. And they're just beginning to develop a methodology around it.

My buddy Aldo De Moor says 'often it's the early doubters who end up making the most use of the map'. And it's often the early-excited that get bored & wander off before the project takes root.  Most visionaries I've worked with get a little stumped when faced with a room full of 'so what?' faces.

I have that problem myself. In the beginning, what I wanted to produce was so real & meaningful to me I could taste it. But once it was done & others didn't know what to make of it, I didn't know what to say. It feels a little like not seeing the emperors new clothes in reverse - how could they NOT see what was so clearly RIGHT THERE? I felt like a fraud & wanted to go home and hide.

Being able to make sense of what I saw myself didn't make me a sense-maker for the group - that requires not just seeing it oneself (which is STILL only seeing what I, myself, was ready & able to see) but also being able to help skeptical people generate their own questions, find the info that would help them, and make meaning together that they can act on.

Plus - visionaries, catalyzers, initiators tend to be busy re-imagining the world and initiating the next new important thing. They persuade & convince up front. They're not usually the ones who stick with a thing to make sure it seeps deep into the interstices of a culture - which is where a Sense-Maker comes in.

Imagining what's possible is different from making meaning from the evidence of what is. So don't think that just because both involve facilitation, communication and good people skills that they can be rolled into one hat.
So you might be able to wear both hats, but you'll have to think differently under each one.

Are You a Sense-Maker?

I confess - the Sense-Making role is the least developed in this framework. It's the first one that I noticed the lack of & need for. And it's the single most pivotal role for the long-term success of a Social System Map. Over time I've become convinced that without someone (and eventually several someone's) wearing that hat, no map will ever make the difference we believe it has the potential to make.

But what might it mean to be a Sense-Maker? Based on what I repeatedly sense the need for, or the lack of, it would need to be someone who:
  1. Is able to teach and facilitate others in learning how to:
    1. Navigate the map (this is relatively easy, most of us can do this)
    2. Use the selectors to drill down to get the information they want
    3. Look for patterns that are meaningful to their own context
    4. Think systemically about their network and use the map as a tool for that thinking
    5. Shift their attention from parts and entities to greater whole and connectedness
    6. Dig for meaning in myriad ways
    7. Identify data that's missing & should be included in the map
    8. Think clearly and purposefully within the chaos a Social System Map can present
    9. And most importantly - Generate Questions!
      1. We are generally, all, culturally, still so enmeshed in the paradigm of self-sufficiency, separate-self, silos & fragmentation, that WE DON'T KNOW WHAT QUESTIONS TO ASK. The most pivotal attitude we could possibly generate is to be curious and inquiring about the things we can't already see with our own eyes. And in my observation, most people don't have that attitude. And that's - in my humble opinion - the most important thing a good Sense-Maker needs to learn how to impart
In other words, the Sense-Maker is the person who helps others learn how to read the new language and think from a different perspective - together.

But not only that, the Sense-Maker is crucial to helping to inform how the language communicates in the first place. A map can't communicate if the data-visualization techniques used in it don't 'speak' clearly.

So a Sense-Makers job is also to take what the members are learning, seeing, struggling with back to the map-makers to continue to tweak the map to help ensure that:
  1. The visual elements are consistent, coherent, and able to support meaning-making
  2. The various views contain only what should be included
  3. That all views have a clear purpose and serve that purpose
  4. That the visual communication elements align with what is most meaningful to the community
  5. When the chaos is too much & how to focus it

And lastly, the Sense-Maker needs to help the entire network find actionable ways of embedding the map and referring to the map into all of the decision-making they do. That means helping to adapt the practices to each particular context.

This role is where the interface between the network at large and the map will be created. Ultimately, it's a way of thinking that should be able to shift the culture profoundly. We just have to find the practices that can be reproduced in multiple contexts.

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