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Sensemaking, The Big Issue Facing Both Our Customers And Us

by David Brock on May 27th, 2019

As we look at the world that surrounds us, we are confronted within increasing levels of turbulence and disruption. Whether it’s our personal lives, our communities, our societies, our jobs, our companies, our customers, our markets, our nations. Every day we are confronted with things which we struggle to understand, manage, or take action.

We used to think of it as massive change, and change is part of the challenge, but somehow it’s much more than that. We are pummelled with information and data from increasing numbers of sources, and in ever increasing volumes. Some of it is real, much of it is fake, some is well intended, some is intended to manipulate, some confirms our beliefs and values, some challenges them. As much as we try to turn it off and disconnect, it’s impossible.

Just as we seem to think we are dealing with the issues we face, all of a sudden things change.

We struggle to understand, to put meaning to these things, to manage or control what happens and what we are doing, to achieve our goals, to grow. But the things we always trusted to work are no longer as effective.

This is our world–individually, with our families and communities. It is what we face everyday in our jobs, it’s what our managers and leaders face, it’s what our customers face, it’s what our competitors, markets, and partners face.

As I mentioned earlier, the concept of change doesn’t seem to capture what we face. Inherent in the way we think of change is some structure and order–though we may disagree with it, it’s understandable. Complexity is another term, as is uncertainty, risk, information overload/overwhelm, disruption, innovation, and others.

To me a term that seems to encapsulate it is “turbulence.” I will use this term to capture all the elements of that which we, our companies, and our businesses face every day.

As human beings we are driven to achieve. To establish goals, to have a purpose, to learn, and grow. But how do we do this given what we confront every day?

How do we start making sense of our worlds, how to we learn, grow, achieve, and achieve our purpose given this turbulence.

The concept of “sensemaking,” begins to come to the forefront. Simply stated it is about making sense of what we face, what it means, and how we achieve.

Sensemaking is just not another buzzword that we apply casually to what we do, though undoubtedly, as it becomes part of the lexicon, most will co-opt it to mean what they want it to mean.

However, the concept of sensemaking, at least thinking of it in a rigorous sense has been around for some time. There are people who have been researching this idea, helping develop ideas, principles, systems, methods, tools, and structures that put some rigor to the concept of sensemaking.

Stated differently, sensemaking, is actually a structured approach that enables us to start to think about what we want to achieve, the turbulence that dominates our businesses, our jobs, and our lives.

Over the next couple of weeks, I will start to look at the concepts of turbulence and sensemaking, and to explore some of the tools and approaches we can leverage as we make sense of what’s happening around us.

I believe the concepts and principles around sensemaking will dominate our conversations in the coming years. From a business point of view, the key jobs of leaders will be making sense of their markets, customers, businesses, and how to lead the organization in achieving, growing, when faced with turbulence and disruption every day.

As sales professionals we have a unique opportunity and challenge with respect to sensemaking. Within our own companies and markets, we struggle with sensemaking for ourselves, sometimes stressing our own abilities to cope. But we have the unique opportunity of providing leadership to our customers as they struggle with these issues themselves. And through this, we have the opportunity to create the greatest value with our customers.

Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be writing a series of articles about sensemaking and turbulence. I will introduce some tools to help us understand how to structure the way we might think of things–both for our own companies, organizations, and in working with customers. We will look at how we apply these tools specifically in working with customers, how managers might apply these tools within their own organizations, how we might leverage these principles to define and reposition our “go to market strategies.”

I won’t be able to do a deep dive into each of these, but more provide some thoughts and models that enable you to start using them in your own sensemaking journey. I’ll point you to resources that I’m finding useful to help me think and develop my own models around sensemaking.

While I will focus my discussion on how we as sales professionals and leaders leverage these principles with our customers, partners, and within our own networks, many of these ideas are useful as we look at our communities, societies, and our own lives.

As I add “chapters,” I’ll keep updating this post with the links to each chapter. So you may want to bookmark this post to follow along.

I’ve been writing a little about these concepts before, so here are some articles that may help kickstart your own thinking. You will notice some redundancy, my apologies. Also, I’m still very early in my own learning and application of sensemaking, so I welcome your ideas and comments.

Below are the links to the articles in this series. I will be adding to the links as I publish new articles (I anticipate roughly 10 articles). I’ll let you know when it’s completed.

  1. Sensemaking, The Foundations (published May 29, 2019)
  2. Sensemaking, A Framework For Making Sense (published May 30, 2019)
  3. Sensemaking, Selling To Customers In The “Simple Quadrant” (published May 31, 2019)
  4. Sensemaking. Selling To Customers In The “Complicated Quadrant” (published June 3, 2019)
  5. Sensemaking. Selling To Customers In The “Complex Quadrant” (published June 4, 2019)
  6. Sensemaking. Selling To Customers In the “Chaotic Quadrant” (published June 5, 2019)
  7. Sensemaking, Putting It All Together In Selling To Our Customers (published June 5, 2019)
  8. Sensemaking, Selling To A Hierarchy Of Challenges (published June 6, 2019)
  9. Sensemaking, Time Changes Everything (published June 9, 2019)
  10. Sensemaking. Sensemaking Within Our Own Organizations (published June 10, 2019)

Background materials: (These were published before this series)

  1. Sales Person As Sensemaker
  2. Turbulence And Fear Of Buying
  3. The New Value Proposition: Sense Making (I will use the single word, sensemaking, going forward)
  4. The Challenged Customer
  5. Sales Talent Is A Problem, Is It Worth Solving


Book CoverFor a free peek at Sales Manager Survival Guide, click the picture or link.  You’ll get the Table of Contents, Foreword, and 2 free Chapters.  Free Sample
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  1. Brian MacIver permalink

    Dave, this is a truly GREAT series of posts.

    All too often WE get hung up on the pragmatics or “How To” of selling. But, with this series you have taken the big step back to look at the PHILOSOPHY of Selling – The WHY.

    Let me make a small build on your work,
    and add The Johari Window to Cynefin.

    I have taught the use of the Johari window in Sales training for 30 years. It is the basis of HOW I demonstrate to Salespeople the simple Generation of Insights, and the Galaxy of Possibility.

    This is a neat useful overview and contrast of Johari and Cynefin together:

    Thank you for the opportunity to Collaborate, Dave.

    • Brian: Thanks so much, you don’t know how much you commenting on this series means! I really love the combination of the Johari Window with Cynefin. Thanks for the reference to the article!

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Sensemaking, The Foundations | Partners in EXCELLENCE Blog -- Making A Difference
  2. Sensemaking: A Framework For Making Sense | Partners in EXCELLENCE Blog -- Making A Difference
  3. Sensemaking: Selling To Customers In The "Simple Quadrant" | Partners in EXCELLENCE Blog -- Making A Difference
  4. Sensemaking, Selling To Customers In The Complicated Quadrant | Partners in EXCELLENCE Blog -- Making A Difference
  5. Sensemaking, Selling To Customers In The Complex Domain | Partners in EXCELLENCE Blog -- Making A Difference
  6. Sensemaking, Selling To Customers In The Chaotic Domain | Partners in EXCELLENCE Blog -- Making A Difference
  7. Sensemaking: Putting It All Together In Selling To Our Customers | Partners in EXCELLENCE Blog -- Making A Difference
  8. Sensemaking: Selling To A Hierarchy Of Challenges | Partners in EXCELLENCE Blog -- Making A Difference
  9. Sensemaking, The Foundations | Online Sales Guide Tips
  10. Sensemaking, Time Changes Everything | Partners in EXCELLENCE Blog -- Making A Difference
  11. Sensemaking: Sensemaking Within Our Own Organizations | Partners in EXCELLENCE Blog -- Making A Difference
  12. Making Sense Of Sensemaking | Partners in EXCELLENCE Blog -- Making A Difference

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