“Real art is not knowing where you are going, but are listening intently to something you don’t understand. And if your ego doesn’t interfere, this something you don’t understand may guide you to much more than you ever expected.”
Robert Pirsig

October 2009

Daniel Schmachtenberger on Sensemaking

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How do you make sense in a messy, noisy and misleading information ecology?

Watching this made me feel both:

  1. A sense of belonging that comes from experiencing a deep and thoughtful shared interest.
  2. A sense of lostness … this feels like (yet another) deep insight that doesn’t really matter … because … who is going to take this to heart and change something about their sensemaking and information ecology?

I also felt disappointment with the title. I do not feel that there is a war on sensemaking. I feel that framing is tainted and narrow. I think we may be getting a taste of deeper forms of sensemaking that we’ve never really had and that they are emerging because of the unprecedented challenges of sense-making that we are facing.

I appreciated Daniel’s attempt to provide a constructive “to do” at the end of the conversation. I also appreciated the idea of investing in synthesis … but that is where some of the lostness came in:

  1. I think there are very few people who have the awareness, skill, and conditions to be able to hold the kind of conversation Daniel is describing.
  2. I think that there are many (if not most situations) in which there isn’t a real possibility for synthesis. What kind of synthesis is there to create with a flat-earther (assuming there is a flat-earther with the ability and earnestness to have such a conversation in the first place)? There is a part of me that wants to embrace the idea that every person carries some valuable signal … but I have doubts about the truth or merit of that assumption. I feel there are fields in which synthesis can be a valuable strategy and fields where it is an incorrect and unsuitable strategy. I feel that there are ideas that are obsolete and irrelevant; that there are ideas that need to be rejected and cannot (and should not) be synthesized; that the people that hold them are not available to synthesis … and that a best-case scenario is that these ideas will die together with the people who give them life.

BECAUSE I resonated so deeply with the presentation I also wondered if it has a dominant masculine flavor? I am not sure that the underlying assumption that things need to make sense (which appeals to me personally!) is complete or workable in the real world.

Ironically, shortly after watching this I also watched these three videos which together form a kind of debate. The first video making a claim. The second video attacking that claim, then reframing it by going deeper. The third video attempting to build a bridge. These are all mathematicians who are supposedly exemplars of rigorous thought and a healthy information ecology … and if they find sensemaking to be so challenging … what does that mean for the rest of us?

If like me, Daniel’s presentation left you wanting more you may want to listen to this follow-up conversation in which Daniel participates. The conversation feels to me dominated by Jordan Hall who strikes me as a good example of excessive-intellectualizing that seems to dominate the “meta-modern” conversation space … but that made Daniel’s rare contributions even sweeter:

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