The 20 Reasons Why Sensemaking & Critical Thinking Matter

Futures & Sensemaking Series #2 — Part 2 of 4

Author: Sean Moffitt, Co-Founder, Grey Swan Guild & Managing Director, Futureproofjng :Next.

Contributors: Mitchell Halpern and Jonathan Powers

To Read Part #1 of the Series — Reasons #1–2

To Read Part #3 of the Series — Reasons #9–14

To Read Part#4 of the Series — Reasons #15–20

#3. Makes Better Sense of an Increasing Complex World

Most leaders, generations and societies throughout history have bemoaned the increasing complexity of their worlds, However, Yaneer Bar-Yam actually went out , explored and proved it. Yes, indeed life in our era currently is more complex than ever, riddled with choices, interdependent factors and the instability of its institutions.

Sensemaking allows people to stay curious with the unknown rather than jumping straight to decisions in attempts to simplify. Critical thinking provides the capacity to look for the right causal factors and dependencies and determine truths vs. opinions. Although sometimes overused, we are living in a VUCA world — with more volatility, uncertainty, chaos and ambiguity in all of our ecosystems. Great cognitive skills and investigative enquiry help us get to the other side of our complexity Rubicons.

Sensemakng and Critical Thinking, particularly in social settings, are what allow us to live less stressfully in the face of complex environments and complicated decisions.

#4. Deals with Risk and Uncertainty Better in Business and Innovation

The stakes at play in business are higher than they have ever been. Look left. Look right. See your top 10 competitors, nearly half of them won’t be there by the end of this decade. The average lifespan of large companies has plummeted from over 60 years to now merely a decade. Despite a world of change & innovation panaceas being peddled out, the reality is only 10–30% of innovations succeed.

When companies fail, it’s not that they stopped working hard (sometimes they work even harder in the face of a sustainability crisis), it’s often that they simply missed the future. Sensemaking and critical thinking provide change agents the right external cues to recognize patterns, determine the positive affects and reach a higher degree of comfort and confidence in their conclusions and actions. In entrepreneurial cases, it provides forums for rapid prototyping and iterations to see what bets are working through evidence. In large business, it helps business look for attractive future opportunity areas and provide models and incentives to create and capture their value.

Sensemaking and critical thinking are critical habits that act as forerunners to smarter innovation, entrepreneurial breakthroughs, corporate ventures and business models.

#5. Intimate Understanding of Human Beings as Actors in the Play of Life

Paul Newman somewhat cruelly sums up the game of poker in The Sting and some of its sensemaking and critical thinking qualities “If you’re playing a poker game and you look around the table and can’t tell who the sucker is, it’s you.” And so it is with life.

Great critical thinking skills and sensemaking processing acumen can be used for selfish or collective good. They provide wisdom into not only universal truths but in an age of tribalism, they also provide insight into why people do the rational and sometimes irrational things that they do. Emotional intelligence has shown to be abundant in 90% of top performers, is correlated to higher earning and if you believe Dr. Travis Bradberry it’s tied strongly to overall job performance (or at least 58% of it). Being intelligently aware, allows us to not be the suckers in the cards of life.

Sensemaking & Critical Thinking creates the capacity for conflict resolution, relationship building, smarter leadership and life success.

#6. Pre-requisites to Better Decisions and Actions

It’s amazing the life of a sports fan. Now less than ten games into new 2021/22 basketball, hockey and soccer seasons, many manic fans are either seething red or having visions of grandeur based on their favoured teams’ early fortunes. Perhaps that is the low risk appeal of sports. We can act out rashly where we wouldn’t in nearly every other endeavour of life.

However peril and stress comes to the professional sports General Manager who gets off to a poor start; thank goodness most have strong sensemaking and critical thinking faculties. Some statisticians did the analysis between the best spring trainings (games played to get ready for the actual season) and the worst spring trainings in baseball and their impact on the overall regular season. Correlation? Absolutely nothing.

Superior sensemaking and critical thinking skills stop the rush to action and allow people to spot better signals and cues to action coming at them. Yes, some forms of heroism and bravery require bold swift action. If you are in a burning building, hopefully your flight instincts win over your mind quickly and you get out of there with any other living being inside. But in most 2021/22 settings, due consideration of circumstances, alternatives, actions and consequences can be developed with a modicum of time. Take a mind’s advantage of it.

Good Sensemaking & Strong Critical Thinking practices are nearly always essential precursors to effective action.

#7. Reveals Patterns in the Thinking Process

Futures & Sensemaking allow us to create plausible future scenarios that mitigate uncertainties and test the robustness of various aspects of proposed strategies. More importantly, they allow us to isolate the information we need to focus on to make a specific decision, thus reducing the complexity caused by huge amounts of data most of which may be irrelevant.

Sensemaking allows us to get behind the patterns to reduce mindlessness of analysis focused on a myopically few central signals (the trees) and avoiding their ignored peripheries (the forest). It also offers springboards to insights and patterns to new threats, by identifying new sources of data and new schema. It affords the opportunity to screen out noise and turn them into coherent signals and stories that lead to action.

Sensemaking & Critical Thinking provides the footprints to remarkably incisive analysis and pattern recognition, both rational and counter-intuitive.

#8. Provide Social Context, Progress & Development

Critical thinking involves questioning central premises. Not surprisingly, people who participate in thinking collaboratively perform significantly
better in a critical thinking
then those who practice individually. Learning and progress is facilitated by interaction, discussion and evaluation of others’
perspectives.

Sensemaking can be a significant influence and rallying point in the process of organizing teams and leading members to develop new ideas, discover effective practices, and helping them overcome challenges. Sensemaking can be a useful resource in creating: common maps, shared hopes, group confidence, more effective action and rethinking activities, in an environment of group safety and social trust.

Sensemaking and Critical Thinking, performed together, can progress fields of study by asking fresh questions and new branches of exploration.

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This post represents the second of a series of long form posts entitled The Futures & Sensemaking Series (here is part one). We have canvassed a leading group of passionate and talented people who think a lot about the “why” and the “how” about our current and future state. We hope you enjoy our outputs and decide to join our Guild to participate, collaborate and contribute.

The Grey Swan Guild — Get Involved : https://www.greyswanguild.org/get-involved

Sean Moffitt is the co-founder of Grey Swan Guild — Making Sense of the World’s Biggest Challenges and Future Grey Swans , Managing Director & Author, Futureproofing ; Next Innovation You Can Take to the Bank . Sean spends equal amounts of time navigating the now, and getting ahead of the future. A great majority of his efforts are spent building out global networks of leading thinkers & doers, fielding foresight ventures, authoring reports on the future, hosting innovation masterclasses, conducting futureproofing sprints, producing change workshops and providing strategic & innovation counsel for corporations & scale-ups. His new book Futureproofing ; Next — The Future Beyond Innovation launches this Fall. Feel comfortable getting in touch with Sean and his team here.

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