agile sensemaking

“Complex environments represent a continuous challenge for sensemaking in organizations. Continuous ambiguity exerts continuous pressures on organizations to modify their patterns of interaction, information flow and decision making. Organizations struggle to address situations that are precarious, explanations that are equivocal and paradoxical, and cognitive dilemmas of all kinds. This creates a demand for innovative approaches in sensemaking. Since agility is what is required in navigating complexity, we can call these new approaches ‘agile sensemaking.'” —Bonnita Roy

Working in complex environments requires constant sensemaking, connecting outside the organization with the work being done inside. Increasing awareness of new ideas, methods, and processes often comes through serendipitous encounters outside the workflow. Radical innovation can appear here. Radical innovation only comes from diverse networks with large structural holes, according to Steve Borgatti. This is why our social networks cannot also be our work teams, or they become echo chambers. In our work teams we can focus on incremental innovation, to get better at what we already do. This is collaboration. Communities of practice then become a bridge on this network continuum.

We seek, sense, and share knowledge in different social circumstances, sometimes with strangers and other times with close and trusted colleagues. Our social networks can help us increase our awareness of new ideas. We can test alternative models and concepts between trusted members in communities of practice, if we have the luck or foresight of being actively engaged in one. Then in our workplaces we take action on the new knowledge we have developed from our looser-knit networks. Organizing work teams on the principle of temporary negotiated hierarchies prevents them from becoming silos of professional practice.

“Increasing complexity exerts a continuous pressure on organizations to modify their structure, information flows, and action potentials in order to be successful in making sense of the environments, situations, and challenges they face. Ultimately, advanced sensemaking technologies could enable organizations to not only face unexpected challenges, but to release complexity in unexpected ways, and reveal surprising new opportunities.” —Bonnitta Roy

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