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SYDNEY: August 23

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    Entries in making sense (5)

    Monday
    Jan302017

    A story will help you make sense

    This is sense making at work. It's how we connect the dots and draw some conclusions from what was uncertain or complex.

    With Sensemaking rated as a vital capability for the future of work as work keeps getting re-worked, we've got to look at human, helpful and effective ways to make sense - that don't involve drowning in fathoms of data.

    In making sense, stories are critically important. Not so much the telling of stories, rather the hearing, the distilling and the getting to the essence. That's the sense part.

    Even micro narratives, tiny little slivers of a story are worth grabbing and capturing. It could be a phrase, a statement, a couple of words, a slang term or a quote.

    When people drop these little micro-gems into the conversation, look out, grab them and capture them. Reflect them. These will help you make sense.

    It’s a little like how panning for gold might give you hundreds or thousands of little pieces of golden glitter, but no big nuggets. Yet it’s the mounting up of those little shimmers that can give you the right to say you’ve ‘struck gold’.

    So don’t discount the little pieces of glitter, the little slivers of a story, the tiny segments or phrases or grabs. Together they can make some wonderful sense.

    In sensemaking and making sense, you’ve got to tune in those listening skills to hear the slivers of stories; to listen to what people are saying and sharing with you… to capture those.

    Don’t just wait for facts and data. Engage in the anecdotes, the stories, the tales and the telling.

    In my earlier career, my first career, I worked in public relations. Oooh, don't throw tomatoes or boo and hiss. It was good PR. It was community relations. I worked in public health, education, government, training, media, sport. It was about helping people understand what was going on and how they could either get involved … or run the other way!

    Whatever the topic, project, program of work or PR piece I was working on, we always had to craft key messages. When you watch someone present to the media, and if they've been media trained, they'll be delivering their content in sound bites and key chunks - those repeatable, printable, quotable quotes that the media like to broadcast. It's a short chunk of sweet loveliness on the topic. (Oh and at the bad end of the scale are those nothingness quotes that politicians like to sprout. Not those.)

    The same can apply in communication, leadership and workplaces the world over. You need some sound bites and digestible chunks for your listeners and viewers to take in and understand - for your employees, teams and tribes to grab hold of.

    Gather together the little slices, pieces, chunks and cues. Together they can give you incredible sense and help show what people are thinking, wondering, learning, sensing and making.

    Collect the stories you hear - even the tiny little ones - capture them, visualize them, share them and reflect on them… put them together, for they will help you – and the people you’re working with - make sense.

    Thursday
    Nov102016

    For the adventurers, cartographers and tool smiths 

    If failure is sexy and pivoting is in, that means we have a world of people who are keen to keep looking around, wondering, improving and trying stuff out.


    I reckon that might be you.
    I’m giving a big shout out and encouraging thanks to the:

    • adventurers : the people who cringe at bureaucratic BS and wasteful systems; 
    • modern day mapmakers and cartographers : who help people see what’s going on and where we’re going; and 
    • toolsmiths : those who use any type of tech, digital or analogue tool or  implement to get sh*t done.

    You're important mavens, facilitators and connectors in the workplaces of today … and the future.
    I think we’re always on the dangerous edge of losing touch with each other or wasting time on activities that don’t really make a difference.
    So as we head off on our next change journey or a transformation project or as we create a new product or try out something, I particularly want to zoom in on the mapmaker, the cartographer who helps guide or map what the heck is going on. 

     


    Unlock and formulate meaning 
    Static maps of two dimensional things – locations, objects, the universe, stars and planets – have a history as old as time. More recently, 3D and interactive maps have given us more knowledge, awareness, access and opportunity.
    We’re able to depict so much information and detail on a map, thanks to (now) well-recognised symbols and icons. And with the rise of digital mapping on our phones and devices, I think we’re breeding a new generation of map lovin’ people; who either like checking out (or in) where they are, or would LOVE to see more about where things are heading on your project.
    But there’s more to maps than just using them on our phones or devices to find out where we are or to use a GPS in a car to plot out the best or most scenic route. 
    Maps have a stunning place and role to play in the workplace. Here’s why:  
     
    “A map does not just chart, it unlocks and formulates meaning; it forms bridges between here and there, between disparate ideas that we did not know were previously connected.”
    From The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet by Reif Larsen

     
    To help people know what’s going on, to help them buy-in to the change or project or to see what’s next, we all need a little bit of map maker in us. Here’s how.
     

    Start by mapping the dialogue
    Dialogue mapping is the activity of facilitating a conversation and capturing the threads. When people say stuff, you write some of it down. It’s that easy.


    Once you’ve got some threads, you write 'em down. These threads I'm talking about, it’s what we mean when we say ‘connecting the dots’.  Often you’ll hear people ask, 'Does that make sense?' They’re hoping you’re connecting the dots!


    It's known as sense making: we’re trying to work out what’s going on and what we need to do about it. 
    The beauty of a dialogue map is that you don’t let key content vapourise upward in the room back out through the air vents! No, you capture it and map it. It means others can see what is being said, in dialogue. It brings seemingly unrelated items together, creating a systems approach to thinking and conversations.

    Yeah but what maps?
    Try some maps like this: 

    • For competing sides use an argument map or a pros and cons chart
    • Isolate the questions people have or are asking
    • Collate the answers or ideas you’re all coming up with
    • Scope out the rationale
    • Pinpoint the data, sources of information or research
    • Show the connections and relationships, links and lines.

    Yes, these are maps. 


    The land was unknown before you mapped it and now there’s a map, there’s a way forward. 
    You’ll look like an adventurer, even if you don't feel like it because that map helps keep holding the threads together. 
    I’ve found dialogue mapping to be one of the most powerful tools working with groups and different cultures, countries, fields, industries, levels of literacy and in groups of large and small numbers.
     
    ‘Hooray!’ is what people often say (out loud or in their head; you can tell by their a-ha facial expressions!) when they see the product or thing you’re discussing taking shape. They’re finally able to see what’s been sitting quietly in other people’s heads!
     
    Then once it’s up there, further collaboration happens. You can start building on it. 
    Beyond that conversation or meeting, it becomes an artifact of the conversation; it marks a time in history when sense was made based on what was known. Anyway, maps keep getting revised all the time! This may be version 1.
     
    We are not listening all the time
    Mapping the dialogue helps people hear each other. Because we’re not really listening, are we? Hello? Are we? Well not ALL the time! I don’t think it’s about ‘making’ people listen to us, rather we need to use some other ways of making information

    • easier to relate to (what's in it for me)
    • quicker to digest (who’s got time for big hefty packs of info)
    • clearer to understand (we're all important here).

    This isn’t dumbing anything down anywhere. We are always going to have complex information and content to deal with.
    But we must try a little harder to be better sense makers - for others in the room and most importantly, for those who aren’t in the room! 
    Dialogue mapping helps people hear what’s being said that they just missed (while they were checking their phone).
    It helps capture complex content and represents the views of all, not just the loudest.
    It helps create shared understanding. 
    Meetings are shorter, more gets done, it’s a richer experience and it’s highly engaging. Your brain can not look away (for too long) when there is a changing map up there on the wall, whiteboard, window or chart. 
     
    If you're stressing thinking this is art...
    Please relax. It doesn’t really matter what your map looks like; it can have roads and cities and stops marked on it like a real road map or subway map for example; or it could be a bunch of circles connected with lines or perhaps one wavy line with some points marked on it or a few cloud-blob shapes with some words in them. 

    In the words of Sensemaking guru Karl Weick...
    ‘any old map will do’. 
    It doesn’t matter what it looks like, ok?
    Just have something for people to look at so they know where they are and what’s going on. 


    But not too box-ey ok? 
    I would put one rider on maps; I think there is a danger in having a boxy organisation chart-style map that we’ve lovingly created on our desktop in PowerPoint over the past three days. Urgh. If it looks like a hierarchy or control-like or template-ish, no, not a map. 
    We can get a little hung up on trying to make a ‘plan on a page’ and then reducing all that text down to 6 point font size so it fits in all the boxes we’ve jammed on the page. In trying to make sense we've gone all box-ey. That’s an over-engineered piece of vanilla that neither engages nor inspires. It might tick somebody’s box but it’s not going to light anyone up with ‘hey, that looks amazing; let’s work on this thing’. 

    Then. Now. Next
    The main thing to do is create something that helps people see:

    • where they are
    • where you’re all going. 

    Then you’ve got something to go with; you can can start working out how you’ll get there. 

    Road trip anyone?
     
    “To put a city in a book, to put the world on one sheet of paper -- maps are the most condensed humanized spaces of all... They make the landscape fit indoors, make us masters of sights we can't see and spaces we can't cover.” 
    From Eccentric Spaces by Robert Harbison

     

    Friday
    Feb192016

    Making sense of WTF is going on

    It can be entertaining to see how we predict the future. From characters like The Robot on Lost in Space, to any Star Trek episode, we are always imagining into the future and picturing what our world will be like.

    Reading Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock or the classic from George Orwell 1984, watching science fiction and thinking of future technology… we’re predicting what it might be like up there, in the future.

    Equally entertaining is when we then look back and see where we’ve come from; there may have been plug and cord switchboards for telephones or we hear the old dial up noises that connected us to the earliest versions of the Internet. Or when we see an older film – from the 1940s or 50s or from the 1990s or early 2000s - and see the technology we used to use: big boxy mobile phones with external antennas and battery packs the size of suitcases?

    What were we thinking!? 

    Today we continue to use all that we know and all that we can get our hands and minds on to predict and plan for the future.

    How do we make sense of the now to plan for the future?

    We are humans and we use sense making.

    We make our best guess.

    Our discussions, thinking and mapping help us predict and scope, ponder and plan.

    And then we look back on it … and sense is made… and often it’s not quite as we thought is might be. We might smile or shake our heads and laugh at what we were thinking then.

    But it’s what we knew at the time. We made sense of what we knew at the time.

    We proposed scenarios, situations, possibilities and options. We were creative and thought provoking and making our best guess of what the future would be like or what we could do based on what know now.

    In the world of work today, for the future of work, we have to keep doing our best to make sense.

     The Institute for the Future reckons Sensemaking is the #1 skill and capability for the future, for 2020 and beyond.

    We can make sense alone... or together. So when you're alone, how do you deliberately make sense of something?

    When you're at a conference or meeting or event and so much data and information is pummelling you, how do you deliberately sensemake?

    Then when you're in a team, group or business unit and you're working together on things, how do you all make sense of what's going on... and do it - kind of deliberately?

    How do you make sense?

    I think you need a tool... no, a handbook of tools. There isn't just one way to make sense. There are many ways.

    "Making Sense: A Handbook for the Future of Work" is just that... a handbook.

    This is not a book about the future of work; it’s a book that will help you handlethe future of work… whatever it is, whatever happens, however it impacts you.

    Making Sense is full of approaches, questions, techniques, tools and models to help you as you respond to what the future has in store - for you, your team, your organisation, industry, country… your world.

    It is a tool and a handbook that will help you put your sense making to work. You see, this sense making topic has got some balls, and that's where it can get tricky. It's a capability needed in workplaces and communities today and the irony is that it can be difficult to make sense of making sense. 

    There’s such a depth of information on the topic of sensemaking; journals, well-researched articles and peer reviewed detailed pieces that go deep, deep, deep on sensemaking. But I don’t think they help us make sense of making sense. Time is of the essence. How do we make sense swiftly? How do we get smart… quick?

    Making Sense is my thinking and experience on how I've worked with people, to help them work together to think, map and act… to make sense of whatever is going on in their industry, their organisation, their team - or for themselves.

    It’s a book that is about making sense. And no matter what the future holds, no matter what technology comes or what changes are made to the world we live in, we will always be striving to make sense of what’s going on.

    We are humans and we use sense making.

    Saturday
    Nov282015

    Can. Not. Deal. How to Handle the Cognitive Clutter

    Cognitive clutter: it’s not about messy desks and over flowing 'to do' lists. 

    It’s the cognitive load your mind is under when you’re trying to take in, digest, synthesise and make sense of what you’re hearing, seeing and working with. Too much! Can. Not. Deal. 
     
    No wonder we dash off to a technology mental paradise, where we can imagine we’re sipping cocktails poolside or hiking across mountain ranges if the information is all too much. 

     

    This is a big reason why it's challenging to engage with people or to fully get their attention - and keep it - in workplace conversations, workshops, meetings and interactions. It's cognitive clutter's fault!

    So here's a cognitive broom! It's a template for clarity. 

     
    It's a cognitive broom! A template for cognitive clarity. 

    We've often got too much to think about, remember or process. It's as if you don't have the bandwidth to take anything else on; like someone is using your mind to download a box set on Netflix!

    Then when we’re presented with even more information, it just doesn’t get through. Or wait, yes, some info does get through; some familiar pieces make it through thanks to our well-wired confirmation biases. 
     
    When you feel hammered with content and Can. Not. Deal. … here are three things to do to sort, make sense and synthesise so you can tidy up the cognitive clutter. 
     
    I'll often use the visual model above, with teams who have a lot on their plate or struggle to find their way through a topic, piece of work or discussion, to make sense: 
     
    1. Get context quick!
    Context gives your eyes, mind and brainpower something to filter to. Rather than trying to take in everything, context will help your mind call out and grab various pieces of highly relevant information. The information will latch on and magically file itself.

    >> I like to write a phrase, topic or point in the template space, the blue speech bubble at the top. What's this thing all about? 
     
    2. Get something down - anything! 
    Of all the stuff you’re thinking and talking about, get some of it down on paper. Something. Anything. We are way too verbal in the workplace, expecting people to remember what's spoken. No wonder people scribble madly on spiral notebooks trying to capture the essence.

    >> In the template, capture a couple of chunks o’content. You’ll be able to handle some more real soon. 
     
    3. Close the loop on what is done or good or decided. 
    In an effort to do, we often don’t stop adding to the list so we keep raising new topics. Get something done and ticked off. Stop starting, start finishing. Once it's done it gets shifted to another part of our memory. There's an 'Aaaaahhhhh' feeling, like when you sit in a chair at the end of a long day. Feel it.... aaaaah! 

    >> Write a few dot points in the circle to show what's good and done. 
     
    4. Some more randoms...
    Capture a few more random thoughts. This keeps freeing up and tidying up the clutter. You don’t need to know where they go right now, simply get more stuff down. Maybe it connects to what else you’ve got there, or it may well be different. 
     
    You’ll feel and see the bandwidth freeing up; people in your group or team will see some connections, they'll be making sense and connecting the dots. More clarity will magically come.  
     
    They’ll see what you mean. They'll know what it is ...because they've seen it.

    And best of all, you’ll be helping others tidy up their cognitive clutter too. Now that is some nice and tidy work. Good job!

     

    Wednesday
    Apr222015

    3 Questions to help them 'get it'

    Speaking with a leader last week and there was that frustration you get when people in the team and across the business just don’t ‘get it’.

    The leader said 'people aren't understanding what the change project is really about, even though there have been plenty of presentations, packs, information sessions and hours spent talking about the information.'
     
    Yes there’s plenty of information available, but which pieces are important; how do you help people make sense of it… and quickly?
     
    My distilled visual is from a presentation by Tom Shanley on Interactive and Immersive Data Visualisation and there's some insight there about beautiful, insightful and functional information. 
     
    When there’s a torrent of information flooding in from all directions, people are secretly asking three questions in their mind:

    1. What are you trying to tell me?
    2. What’s the story?
    3. What am I meant to be looking at?

    The rise of infographics and data visualisations certainly help convey deep information and data quickly, clearly and with creative appeal.
     
    These and other visuals work because our eyes see patterns – it’s Gestalt Theory. Images help people see the trees and the forest ... and helps it become a two-way conversation.

    And what's so beautiful about information? I love thumbing through David McCandless' book 'Information is Beautiful' (also called The Visual Miscellaneum in some countries). It's one for the coffee table, reception or waiting area or the meeting room, to give you a boost of visual inspiration. 
     
    So what do you need to help people ‘get’ right now? Answer this:

    1. What are you trying to tell them?
    2. What’s the story?
    3. What are they meant to be looking at?

    Answer those questions and you'll help people 'get it' and make sense of it all – otherwise it’s all too much and they'll give their attention to someone else answering those three questions.