Making sense of complex situations

Sense-making was a word I hadn’t come across until later in my career, but the concept is familiar even if you’ve never come across the word before. To me, sense-making is a continuous and ongoing process where you are simply trying to make sense of the situation so that you can accomplish some sort of goal. If you think about it, this activity happens nearly every time you are out in the world doing anything. When we approach a building with the intention of entering it, we look for the entrance, which is often made more obvious through the design of the steps leading to it, the words or signage and other architectural features which make it easy to see where we are meant to go.

From this example we can see even in an unfamiliar situation such as being in a foreign city, we can apply a model (buildings have entrances, and they are usually made to stand out from the rest of the building), and then look for things in the environment which match this model to make a reasonable prediction (we can go through the entrance to get into the building).

Pablo walks through the door now that he knows where it is.

At its core, sense-making is this ongoing activity of applying a model to information and then using that model to make sense of the information at hand. We can then work through a more refined model to better understand the information, which in turn lets us refine the model further.

Making sense with hand-drawn diagrams. Being able to quickly get a group of people to have the same viewpoint is an essential skill. This article is an entrypoint into Lynne Cazalay’s work in developing techniques in graphical facilitating.

Why we suck at solving wicked problems. A good exploration of the different modes of thinking required to solve difficult problems.

Asking the right question is more important than getting the right answer. Blog article by a computer science professor which articulates the value of asking the right question, and gives some tips on how to go about it.

Mental Models. Mental models are how we understand the world. Not only do they shape what we think and how we understand but they shape the connections and opportunities that we see. Mental models are how we simplify complexity, why we consider some things more relevant than others, and how we reason.

Visual Analogies. A comprehensive list of visual design analogies that can help explain thoughts or ideas more effectively.

40 Powerfull concepts for understanding the world. Megathread of tweets by the author covering 40 axioms, principles, effects, laws, wagers, fallacies, conjugations and syndromes that might apply to your problem.

The CIA Phoenix Checklist. A great checklist of questions to ask at the outset of any problem solving journey.

The Cognitive Bias Codex. A fairly large graphic that maps cognitive biases that may affect your understanding of the problem.