The 20 Reasons Why Sensemaking & Critical Thinking Matter — Reasons #9–14

Grey Swan Guild
8 min readNov 29, 2021


Futures & Sensemaking Series #2 — Part 3 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 this post series and reasons #1–2.

To Read Part #2 of this post series and reasons #3–8

To Read Part #4 of this post series and reasons #15–20

W e offer this post up as the third of four parts in an ongoing series of advancing “making sense of the world” and a companion piece to our 20 Reasons Why Futurism & Foresight Matter.

#9. Sensemaking & Critical Thinking Help Us Pierce Superficial Analysis & Evaluating Root Causes, Not Merely Symptoms

Sensemaking & critical thinking provide the difference between deeper learning & surface learning. Deeper learning is a commitment to master the facets of an important topic, think & interact more critically and robustly than the unchallenged mind.. Surface learning can be important shorthands for small or unimportant decisions, but tend to avoid the hard cranial work, rely on single sources of information and heuristics, and have key blindspots when it comes to bigger and larger existential evaluations and decisions.

The concerns about our increased class divisions may not be segregation along racial or gender lines, but in the future, may be around having the right cognitive skills sets — the gaps in levels of critical thinking and requisite attention capacities to get through things as life gets more complex. My sense is that society is becoming conditioned into its dependence on technology, in ways that downloads our thinking, memory and evaluative powers to”the cloud”, and may render people functionally less useful in the near future.

At the same time, we are operating in a socially conditioned world that is challenging individual and social resiliency. Groupthink and polarization of views is being reinforced at every digital touchpoint, meaning consensus is achieved without much critical thinking or an evaluation of the possible consequences or alternatives.

Sensemaking & Critical Thinking allows for disciplined processes to combat the need for toxic social cohesion in the face of biased algorithms, superficiality, obvious untruths and truthiness (the new word popularized by Stephen Colbert).

Why Sensemaking & Critical Thinking Matter #10 — Abets The Rise in Non-Routine Occupations

As we continue to face a rapid rise in non-routine challenges and jobs, the soft skills of “sensemaking” and “critical thinking” become that much more valuable. They enables leaders to have a better grasp of what is going on in their environments, thus facilitating other leadership skills in demand such as: strategic change and decision making, creativity and inventing, visioning, communication, education, learning, response and action, as well as debiasing.

Since the start of this millennia, routine jobs have been disappearing from the developed world due to some offshoring, but also the due to the effects of technology transformation and recession restructuring. Whatever routine jobs are left, such as data entry, assembly line, mechanics, transportation and customer service, will suffer more cuts over the next decade due to AI and Internet of Things. Work post-2030 is either done by machines or essentially non-routine. Staying ahead through soft skill reskilling will be essential.

Sensemaking & Critical Thinking (and adaptability) have become the new pre-eminent skills for the 2020s, replacing unwavering direction, leader status acquisition and cutthroat accountability of the 1980s.

#11. Meaning Making — Provides Clearer Implications for Me (The Individual)

Stress reduction, personal growth, reappraisal of values, purpose-led lives and spirituality have all received considerably more attention during this global pandemic shock. We have had more time and cause to reevaluate our place in the world.

Meaning Making has come to mean searching for a more favourable understanding of situations and its implications, or revising ones goals and reconsidering global beliefs in confronting new evidence and experiences.

By effectively being able to confront the discrepancy between people’s universal beliefs and the situational contexts they find themselves in, it can improve: healthy behaviours and lifestyles, social relationships, coping skills, life philosophies and personal resources. These efforts are only achieved through sensemaking and critical thinking at a personal level (some might use the euphemism soul searching to describe this effort).

Sensemaking & Critical Thinking are requisite life coping skills to internalize and confront the global and situational cascades of personal stressors.

#12. See and Search for the Clues & Blindspots Better

On a very elemental basis, we have seen the absence of critical thinking and sensemaking in recent societal-wide movements (e.g. cancel cultures, anti-vaxxing and forms of populism) have been borne out of people suspending judgement and either not listening to or summarily rejecting competing arguments. Blindspots ensue.

In more complex, fast-paced and ambiguous public and corporate worlds, no single leader or individual can know everything or be smart enough alone to address and command the challenges that currently face us. Robert Bruce Shaw’s book identified 20 of the most common Leadership Blindspots:

  • Overestimating your strategic capability.
  • Valuing being right over being effective.
  • Failing to balance the what with the how.
  • Not seeing your impact on others.
  • Believing the rules don’t apply to you.
  • Thinking the present is the past.
  • Failing to focus on the vital few.
  • Taking your team model for granted.
  • Overrating the talent on your team.
  • Avoiding the tough conversations.
  • Trusting the wrong individual
  • Failing to capture the hearts and minds.
  • Losing touch with your shop floor.
  • Treating opinion as fact.
  • Misreading the political landscape.
  • Putting personal ambition ahead of the organization’s best interest.
  • Clinging to the status quo.
  • Underestimating your competitors.
  • Being overly optimistic.

The simple solution? — better applications of critical thinking, getting more people involved and getting out of the office to encourage more variety of thinking.

Sensemaking and Critical Thinking provide a better mirror for what’s really going on than blind faith and cliquish groupthink.

#13. Provides an Objective Compass vs. Phrenetic Emotional Response to Life’s Challenges

Emotional stability has been put under the microscope during the pandemic, and more than 50% of us are suffering, It can’t help but affect our ability to make strong judgements. Researchers Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov suggest we make up our minds about any given person or act in less than one tenth of a second and even less when it comes to matters that don’t affect us personally; other have suggested at most it’s three-to-seven seconds .

The stronger the feeling and context, the more you may need to step back and consider alternative viewpoints. The Watson-Glaser critical thinking test has been developed to test critical thinking and essentially look for three RED elements that can keep prospective employees on course:

Recognize Assumptions — Can you separate facts from opinions? Can you understand whether the information is correct or not, by uncovering the information gaps and unfounded reasons? Can you examine an assumption from different angles resulting in a richer perspective? Can you make sure that the fact isn’t actually an opinion in disguise?

Evaluate Arguments — Can you evaluate arguments to set aside emotions, and sift through the conflicting information, objectively? Can you process information accurately by taking an unbiased stand and question the underlying arguments better?

Draw Conclusions — Can you draw conclusions based on the information, supported by evidence? Can you bring together diverse information? Can you select an optimal course of action?

These may seem self evident but our emotions can distract all of us from the truth. One blatant example is the bravado most recent graduates have in their belief about their readiness for the workplace (90% of them believe they are perfectly ready) but employers find 60% of them lacking the requisite critical thinking skills.

Well practiced Sensemaking & Critical Thinking can be an effective “step back” rudder in turbulent, emotionally-charged times.

#14. Overcomes Cognitive Bias & Peer Pressure

My company Futureproofing: Next recently identified the top 48 cognitive biases that factor into successful (or non-successful)innovation; our starting point was 4x as large of a universe, with over 200 identified biases in the psychology and sociology journals.

On some level I’m impressed with the shorthand rules of thumbs and educated guesses that humans lean on to live effectively minute-to-minute. Biases can help up live effectively. We can’t rethink every incident in our lives. Cuddly Golden Retriever — go ahead and pet, growling Doberman — maybe not.

On the big decisions however, you want to be self-aware of your biases. Emotions, limits on attention, mental shortcuts, social pressures and personal preferences all play big roles in our choices. The very time investment and act of sensemaking and critical thinking can piece away some of these. Hopefully done well, better thought out conclusions, retrospective analysis and socializing the results can modulate and automate away some of the more harmful biases from effective action.

Sensemaking and Critical Thinking, when practiced effectively without urgency, can be truth serums to the hidden and social reasons why we do what we do.

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This post represents the third part of the second post of a series of long form posts entitled The Futures & Sensemaking Series. 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 :

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 coming year. Feel comfortable getting in touch with Sean and his team here.



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Making Sense of the World’s Biggest Challenges & Next Grey Swans — curating and creating knowledge through observation, informed futurism, and analysis🦢