Navigating in a very uncertain fog
The ability to take a perspective on a problem is at the heart of all great business leadership, according to Christian Madsbjerg and Mikkel Rasmussen in their book The Moment of Clarity: Using the Human Sciences to Solve Your Toughest Business Problems. Leading by way of sensemaking requires that you, as a leader, know how to ask the right questions, how to see the patterns in the data, how to make the right interpretation, and how to shape those interpretations into actions.
According to the authors, business leaders make the wrong decisions using their default modes of thinking. Default thinking assumes that problems can be deconstructed into quantifiable and formal problem statements, the parts can be analysed separately, hypotheses can be generated to explain the causes of the problems, data can be gathered to test the hypotheses, which can in turn be used to identify areas of intervention with greatest impact in a logical and fact-based manner, and proposed actions with associated timeframes and performance metrics can be assigned, to solve the problems.
Default thinking is often effective at solving problems where the variables are known and the business environment is fairly predictable, but how do you address problems which have a high level of uncertainty, with no understanding of the problem? The authors advocate a process they call “sensemaking”, which involves:
- Framing the problem as a phenomenon
- Collecting the data
- Looking for patterns
- Creating the key insights
- Building the business impact
I found the authors’ criticisms of “default thinking” and “brainstorming” more entertaining and enlightening than their description of their own “sensemaking” process. Chapter 7 describes how Intel used a sensemaking process to start moving away from the engineering-focused innovation of computing toward user experiences in 2004, and yet this week’s news headlines (January 2014) say that Intel is shedding 5000 jobs after failing to anticipate the ways smartphones and tablets would replace PCs.
Many businesses are encountering disruption on an unprecedented scale, in environments of great uncertainty, where there are no clear precedents for action. Although I am not fully convinced by the authors’ prescriptions, I think this book is well worth reading as an aid to consideration of the relevant issues.