Tag: Karl E. Weick


The Karl Weick Question











GK VanPatter’s new LinkedIn blog post addresses this often asked question: How does 21st century SenseMaking practice differ from Karl Weick’s SenseMaking?

“Many of our clients and readers know Weick’s work well. Often the question behind the question is: How does that literature, that theory, those constructions fit with what we do at Humantific?

Widely recognized as an important American organizational psychologist and theorist, Karl E. Weick is among the pioneers of the contemporary SenseMaking movement. The author of several important books including SenseMaking in Organizations, his work connects across numerous knowledge communities of practice.

While acknowledging and appreciating Karl Weick, we think it is important to recognize that his work represents only one of several avenues that lead into what is now 21st century SenseMaking. Weick’s avenue is one that happens to have a particular texture, tone, and focus. Other avenues with different textures and tones also exist.

To place Weick in perspective we appreciate this cross-community picture:”



See entire post on LinkedIn here:


ReAppreciating Richard Saul Wurman

Starving for Understanding?

Required historical background reading for anyone joining Humantific is Richard Saul Wurman’s Information Anxiety, published in this first edition in 1989. Years later Richard did a refresh and republished the book as Information Anxiety 2. The later version is easier to find than the original book. Either is recommended if you want to better understand the remarkable time-warp story of how the Understanding Business, the Explaining Business, the SenseMaking Business actually preceded, by decades, the Big Data business.

Of course, all of the technology-related references inside Information Anxiety are now dated, but Richard’s central message remains even more relevant today than when it first appeared. Forget all the Big Data buzz for a moment. It was 20+ years ago that Richard began expressing concern about “the black hole between data and knowledge” and “the widening gap between what we understand and what we think we should understand”. It is rather amazing to consider Information Anxiety in the timeline of technology history. It was in 1989 that the world-wide-web began appearing in public and Apple introduced its Mac SE/30 and the Mac 11ci, running at 25 MHz with an 80 megabyte hard drive!Continue Reading..


SenseMaking is Core Leadership Skill

We are delighted to see Deborah Ancona, Director of the MIT Leadership Center at the MIT Sloan School of Management acknowledging sensemaking as a key aspect of leadership in her post entitled The Elements of Good Leadership.

Today’s leaders need the ability to make sense of complex environments. Sensemaking — the ability to make sense of what’s going on in a changing and complex environment — is a particularly important predictor of leadership effectiveness right now, Ancona explained. Sensemaking in business (a term drawn from the works of Karl Weick) requires executives to let go of their old mental models and some of their core assumptions; to take in data from a wide variety of sources; to use the information they have to construct, with others, a “map” of what they think is going on; and to verify and update the map — in part by conducting small experiments that provide the organization with more information.”

We love Karl Weick’s work and consider him to be among a small group of inspirational pioneers. We are often asked how Weick’s work relates to what Humantific does today. We point out that professional sensemakers did not and do not exist in the Weick’s universe. Writing in a somewhat vertical way, Karl seems to have been unaware of the parallel universe of visual sensemaking that already existed at the time of his first writings (see below). Today organizational leaders have the opportunity to accelerate sensemaking and build sensemaking capacity by collaborating with professional sensemakers. At Humantific we link SenseMaking to ChangeMaking. This linkage is fundamental to how we help organizational leaders drive change in organizations.

Related See:

Understanding Social SenseMaking
Humantific CoFounder GK VanPatter posts to the Social SenseMaking Group on Facebook explaining how 21st century SenseMaking and Social SenseMaking in particular differ from Karl Weick’s SenseMaking.


Lost Stories Applied Creativity History

In this series, we are focusing on lost stories in innovation history.

At Humantific, we have always had great interest in the unsung milestones and off-the-beaten-path landmarks of innovation enabling history, as they tend to inform present-day understanding significantly. Many organizational challenges tend to repeat themselves, generation after generation. Without historical innovation knowledge, organizations can expend a lot of energy reinventing wheels. With the goal of inspiring others, we share a few gems from our lost stories innovation library.

Humantific works at the intersection of several knowledge arenas and, thus, over the years, we have become familiar with multiple streams of innovation enabling related histories. Here in this post today, we are looking at one not well-recognized milestone in one stream of innovation history, known to some as Applied Creativity, and perhaps to others as Creative Problem Solving (CPS) or Creative Intelligence. All are terms that have been around since the 1950s. It matters little to us which term you use. We are happy to engage in conversation around any of these terminologies.

Today it would be difficult for anyone to understand what is going on in the marketplace without cross-disciplinary historical innovation enabling knowledge. With all the ballyhoo going on around Design Thinking, we might point out that it is not possible to simply look at the history of design and understand what leading changemaking consultancies are already doing today and why.

A truth not always made clear in the highly competitive marketplace today is that what is being packaged and sold as Design Thinking often contains forms of knowledge originating from the parallel universe of Applied Creativity. To keep it simple: The composition of design at the scale of organizational change (Design 3) and societal change (Design 4) is already interwoven with the DNA of Applied Creativity. That is one reason why we believe that much of the recent writing on the subject of Design Thinking, interpreted as product, service, interface and or experince creation (Design 2), has been narrow and shortsighted—or should we say just plain dumb.

What we notice in the marketplace is that many aspects of innovation history are invisible to new generation audiences, in part because much of the original historical materials from the 1940s, 50s, 60s are out of print and therefore difficult to find. Unless you have access to original artifacts, it is unlikely that you would encounter much of that early material, as very little of it is found online today. That absence might be fortunate or unfortunate, depending on what one’s individual orientations and goals might be.

Certainly, we have been noticing a general lack of historical awareness and proper historical crediting in current discussions related to Creative Intelligence and Applied Creativity. It’s no secret that the lofty crediting protocols taught in graduate schools are routinely abandoned in the cut-throat competitive marketplace. Some of that omission is likely just plain ignorance. While such omissions and redepictions can be entertaining to observe, what that leads to, most often, is unenlightened or deliberate repeating starting-point initiatives being directed at unaware audiences. Ho Hum.

If we had to choose 10 early Applied Creativity books that Humantific considers to be most significant to innovation enabling history, near the top of the list would be Creative Behavior Guidebook by Sid Parnes.

Unofficially published as an experimental edition in 1966 under the title, Instructors Manual for Institutes and Courses in Creative-Problem Solving, this volume was officially published as Creative Behavior Guidebook in 1967. It was subsequently improved upon and republished as Creative ActionBook in 1976 and Guide to Creative Action in 1977. In the later 2 volumes, Sid collaborated with Ruth B. Noller and Angelo M. Biondi. At Humantific, we call this amazing 3-part series of publications the SidTrilogy. Inside, in a mixture of elementary and advanced states, is what amounts to the foundations of all future Applied Creativity workshops.

Dr. Sidney J. Parnes (1922-present) was a Professor of Creative Studies at State University New York College at Buffalo in 1967. Sid cofounded, and later became President of, the Buffalo-based Creative Education Foundation. Competitors of Sid tend to point out that he was an “academic” (he had a Phd in Education), but a little unsung industry secret is that much of what appeared in the SidTrilogy was rapidly transported to the operational realm of consulting practice, and remains at the center of numerous innovation consultancies still today. (It is unlikely that you will be reading about this on Wikipedia.) Having already begun to work in the 1950s on how to make the world a better place, it would be fair to Sid Parnes to say that he was before his time in many ways.

Prior to the publication of Creative Behavior Guidebook, Sid worked closely with the most recognized hero in Applied Creativity history: Alex Osborn (1888-1966). In 1955, Sid attended the first Applied Creativity conference organized by Osborn. Attendence at that event changed the course of Sid’s life. In Sid Parnes, Osborn saw a person who could help him operationalize Applied Creativity as it was then conceived. Osborn and Parnes co-founded the Creative Education Foundation in Buffalo. They worked together to cocreate the most influential, deliberate creative problem solving process model (it had numerous iterations) in Applied Creativity history, as well as the Institute’s learning program–a version of which still remains in operation today. Within what we now refer to as the Buffalo School of Applied Creativity, Alex and Sid remain highly respected Giants in that Hall of Fame. Outside that corner of the universe, what Sid did, how, when, and why is not widely understood today.

The 1967 version of Creative Behavior Guidebook was published a year after Alex Osborn had passed away. It was the same year that JP Guilford (1897-1987) published Structure of the Intellect and The Journal of Creative Behavior (founded by Sid) first appeared. None of this is ancient history, but these are important milestones in the timeline of the modern Applied Creativity movement that is still very much active today.

What else was going on in 1967? Yes, it was the year that Elvis starred in Clambake!, Warhol showed Marilyn and the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper. Can you believe that the average cost of a new house in the US in 1967 was $14,250? Of course, Sgt. Pepper eventually landed on the list of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, and it has been occurring to us, recently, that Sid’s much more humble Creative Behavior Guidebook was also a legendary album of sorts, from a quite different, less glamorous realm of knowledge.

Breathtakingly under-designed (some might say awful), Sid’s Guidebook is a 345 page, soft cover volume that looks like it was created on a primitive typewriter by an engineer. With an introduction written by J.P. Guilford, the book contains 99% text, with only a couple of primitive visualizations. Inside, however, is a mother-load of what might be called the beginning synthesis of modern Applied Creativity knowledge for which there is, frankly, no equivalent in Design Thinking history.

“This Creative Guidebook is written for the creative educator in schools or in industry, for the leader who desires to see blossom in others this trait he holds most valuable: the ability to perform effectively by bringing to any task a part of one’s unique self…The teaching manual is the culmination of eighteen years of research and development with creative problem-solving courses and institutes of the State University of New York at Buffalo…It reflects the extensive experiences of scores of instructors in the Creative Education Foundation’s Creative Leadership Council..”

To say this another way: Sid’s Guidebook was a synthesis of experiments in teaching that had been underway in Applied Creativity workshops since 1950. Considering the context of that moment, it was a gathering up and offering up of momentous proportions.

Having worked with Osborn, Sid saw, early on, a need to systematize and structure the delivery of teaching others the emerging skills of Applied Creativity in an experiential way. Sidney was already thinking about scale and global delivery of Applied Creativity skill-building in 1967. In Guidebook, Sid generously lays out an experiential logic connected to process orchestration that underlies many Applied Creativity workshops still today. Of course, it’s not difficult to see that Parnes did not yet have everything figured out in ’67 that is known today, but he certainly did place a large chunk of experiential knowledge on the table for public viewing.

In Guidebook Sid wrote: “Within five years, about one-half of what I have told you will either be untrue or not worth a darn. This doesn’t really bother me; but what does irritate me is that I can’t even tell you which half is which.”

Today, forty-five years later, the half that was most important can more clearly be put into perspective. In rediscovering the early work of Sid Parnes, perhaps most important is to appreciate his basic orientations in the world. His orientation towards sharing knowledge, tools, and techniques has many parallels to the interests and pursuits of the OPEN Innovation movement today.

Long before the competitive copyrighting “I own this technique” wave of the 1970s and 80s changed the dynamics of the Buffalo Applied Creativity community there was Sid, sharing with a global perspective. We consider Sidney Parnes to be one of several unsung pioneers in the still evolving OPEN Innovation movement. The truth is, that movement has its roots in the 1940s, 50s, 60s, rather than in 2003.

Not only was Parnes already writing in 1967 about everyone, everywhere working creatively together, he was advocating the global sharing of the knowledge and tools that he and his collaborators were placing on the table—without strings attached. The good news is that much of what Parnes created and shared early on has long since passed into the public domain. Many have built on Sidney’s work and that of his collaborators.

Probably what transpired in the competitive arena since the SidTrilogy was published was not exactly what Parnes had in mind at the outset, but, from a global sharing and impact perspective, Sidney rocked!  The spirit of Sid Parnes has inspired many movements, past and present. We have great respect for his many contributions.

Here are ten solid gold enduring innovation themes and ideas that appear in the original 1967 version of Sidney’s Creative Behavior Guidebook:

1. Adaptability

In Guidebook, a prescient Sid Parnes wrote, in 1967, about the importance of adaptability in a continuously changing world. That was six years before Paul Mott published his 1972 study. Characteristics of Effective Organizations, and forty years before Fast Company was telling its readers in 2012 that the next new thing is for individuals and organizations to forget history and become continuously adaptable as part of Generation Flux“...:-)

In 1967, Sidney wrote: “Obviously there is an urgency for developing in people the ability to live with constant change in a dynamic society.”

Sidney saw deliberate creative process mastery as the way for humans to realize sustainable adaptability, instead of chasing flavor-of-the-month trends.

In Guidebook he wrote: “Problem solving may be considered the process of human adaptation to cultural life. This means adapting ourselves to our environment, as well as adapting our environment to suit us. Throughout our lives, this process of adapting ourselves and our environment is a continuing challenge. Creating deliberate means of treating perplexing situations is therefore an opportunity, a challenge. The means or workable ways of meeting challenge or opportunity are only temporary measures that change as our needs change. Thus each of these means of treating perplexing situations becomes in itself another challenge.”

Whether you refer to it as Adaptability, Agility, Flexibility, Resilience, Fluency, Fluxability, Adaptive Capacity, or something else, adapting to continuous change has been a recognized human challenge spanning numerous generations. It is a theme that has been reframed, renamed, and repurposed over the years, by thought leaders from numerous fields—including Alex Osborn, Sid Parnes, Herbert A. Simon, Paul Mott, Russ Ackoff, West Churchman, Harold J. Leavitt, Ikujiro Nonaka, Karl Weick, and others. As is evidenced by Guidebook, enabling adaptability has been at the center of Applied Creativity skill-building for decades. What’s fundamentally different now is not the theme, not the re-renaming of it as “Flux,” or the need for adaptability capability, but rather the ever-evolving combination of tools and skills that are brought to the table to address this enduring challenge for teams, organizations, and societies.

2. Creativity is Everyone

Contrary to the once-popular notion that creativity was the realm of an elite few, Sid Parnes was among the early Applied Creativity pioneers strongly advocating an opposite perspective. Underlying much of Buffalo School Applied Creativity history is an optimistic, American (United States), can-do orientation that was sprouted during the (1940s) war years when everyone was expected to pitch in. Front and center is the notion that everyone has the capacity to be creative, and that there is a place for everyone. It is an orientation not found in Design Thinking history. It’s probably not possible to overstate the importance that Sidney and other Applied Creativity pioneers placed on encouraging and enabling creativity among laypersons of everyday work life. Radically different from traditional Design Thinking orientations in Applied Creativity there is no special group called the “Creatives.” This simple truth has had enormous implications, past and present. While the notion of “Participatory Design” is a relatively new phenomenon to the Design Thinking community, the goal and orientation of intentionally enabling wide participation in deliberate creative processes has been central to Applied Creativity since the 1940s. In Sid’s Guidebook, one can see the early seeds of “Here Comes Everybody,” long before the technology existed to globally enable it. That prolonged focus has resulted in the creation and refinement of many tools for enabling inclusion of everyone that are not found in Design Thinking history. Thanks to Sid, in Guidebook, we can see the philosophical roots of the “Creativity is Everyone” movement in practice circa 1967. Today, with many organizational leaders seeking to maximize inside and outside brainpower, it’s a theme that resonates more than ever. Again, what’s different now is the greatly expanded, hybrid toolkit that is utilized to realize thinking diversity via deliberate inclusion in the context of changing organizations and societies.

3. Facilitation as Creative Leadership

Among the radical ideas embedded in Guidebook, and throughout the SidTrilogy, is the then revolutionary notion that facilitation can be a form of leadership. Sid Parnes is the de-facto godfather of this approach to leadership that was much different from what was being taught in business schools (and design schools) in the 60s. The truth is, this approach to leadership is still not widely appreciated, understood, and/or taught—even today. In hardball subjects, where, traditionally, content knowledge has been king, the notion of facilitation as leadership is a bit of a mind-bender for some people not accustomed to this approach. Unlike in traditional Design Thinking mode, in Applied Creativity mode, content knowledge is separated from process knowledge. In a practical sense, what it means is that the person at the front of the room, leading the meeting, is in a process, not content, role. This separation is found throughout Applied Creativity history, and remains central to the movement today. With increasingly complex challenges facing planet Earth, the page has turned, in favor of this leadership approach. Today there is growing awareness that, as the scales of challenges grow, more stakeholders are involved, more diverse forms of knowledge are involved, and, thus, more facilitation of cocreation across many disciplines is needed. Guidebook predates the arrival of this public awareness by many decades. This is the form of leadership that Sidney advocated, modeled, and taught throughout his life. In practical terms, facilitation as leadership remains in its infancy, but its relevance today is stronger than ever. The reality is that much of what was taught as facilitation in those days by Parnes and others at Creative Education Foundation looked a lot like Sid’s Guidebook: very engineering-oriented, dominated by words. What is different today can be summed up in the word “bundled”. Rather than trying to address complex issues by operating in only one language mode, utilizing primarily words, today we address complexity with bundled modes that includes much more visualization and involves more than just facilitation. In this approach, leadership by facilitation of cocreation is one of several streams of skills being recognized as extremely useful for change-making leaders. Whether you want to call it bundled, meshed, combined, integrated, fused, or Sid+, the notion is that we recognize this as the era of the hybrid toolbox rather than the engineering toolbox. OMG did I just say Flux meets Fuse! :-)

4. Creative Behaviors

As is evidenced by the book title, Sid Parnes and his collaborators had deep interest and expertise in behaviors. One of the most striking differences between Design Thinking history and Applied Creativity history is the appearance of behaviors as a focus in early literature. Always front and center in Applied Creativity historical literature, the behavior consideration is essentially missing-in-action in Design Thinking history. That presence and that absence have had enormous consequences that reverberate across education and practice still today. Building on the 1950s-60s era work of JP Guilford, some might say that the Buffalo-based Creative Education Foundation was, and still is, the de-facto Behavioral School of Applied Creativity. Early key pioneers of that school were Paul Torrance, JP Guilford, Alex Osborn and Sid Parnes. Today, it’s easy to take this perspective for granted, but, at that time, it was like they discovered and opened a window unto a new dimension of space that had not previously been considered in the context of creativity. In Guidebook, and throughout the SidTrilogy, one can see the excitement and the certainty of purpose there. The behaviorists’ position then and now was/is to advocate recognition that much of formal education serves to kill the creative spirit, resulting in blocks to creativity in many adults.

In Guidebook Parnes wrote: “The basic techniques of invention and innovation…ought to be taught, but are not, among the fundamentals generally taught in the engineering and business schools. The same can be said of schools in general..Although teachers show increasing awareness of the need and opportunities for encouraging creative behavior, our present educational system to a large extent still overlooks the intentional enhancement of such behavior.”

The difficult truth is, Guidebook and the rest of the SidTrilogy series, spanning from 1967 to 1977, are so poorly designed graphically, that it is easy to miss the big picture within. Embedded in SidTrilogy, is a strong orientation towards the optimistic notion that a better place—a better world—can willfully be created. In the workshops described in SidTrilogy, participants undergo a journey, of sorts, that includes a sense of heightened self-awareness, departure, transport, and arrival. In essence, workshop participants are transported to a new land where old habits are left behind, values are different, new, much more inclusive rules apply, and all are appreciated. What Parnes and his collaborators discovered (teaching workshops early on in the 1950s and 60s) was that many adults in the workplace longed for such a place. Due to the state of everyday work-life for many, it is a longing that has endured across the generations, as we see in Humantific workshops today.

At a tactical level, one can see, in Guidebook, the philosophy of deliberate behavior-enhancement played out in the various hands-on exercises designed to raise awareness of blocks, help restore dormant creativity circuits and connect rekindled capability to synchronized action. Many exercises from the Behavioral School seen in Guidebook were designed to make habitual behaviors transparent and visible for the good of all. The resultant learnings by participants remain at the center of many Applied Creativity workshops today, the thinking being that it is difficult to change habits if there is no collective awareness of what the habits are. Today there is additional recognition that many historical Applied Creativity interventions, including numerous exercises seen in Guidebook, were geared towards increasing generative capacity. In the Guidebook era, the assumption that there was such a need was often an educated guess, based on general awareness of what was not being taught in various business schools, engineering schools, etc. The temperature-check instruments that exist today, that are capable of mapping the existing thinking styles of a team to an organization’s innovation strategy, did not exist in the era of Guidebook. As a result, what is different today is that such blind assumptions regarding what the nature of the intervention might be—should be—need no longer be made. Today, we do not automatically assume that there is a default lack of generative thinking capability. Today, cross-disciplinary innovation skill-building can be geared to the thinking style “fingerprints,” to the mapped “innovation DNA” of the team or organization, and to deliberate strategy. Now we customize the fit. Depending on what that “fingerprint” turns out to be, we may gear intervention towards increasing generative ability or a number of other objectives. Thinkerprints talk…We listen…:-)

5. Invitation Stems (“How Mights”)

The introduction of what are known as invitation stems, sometimes referred to as “How Mights,” are among the important tactical instruments included by Parnes in Guidebook. Invitation stems became important, fundamental building blocks in the still-evolving logic of what is known today as “challenge framing” or “challenge mapping.” In Guidebook, Parnes introduces numerous key invitation stems that have sometimes been creatively attributed to later arriving others; included are: “How Might I?” (page131), “How Might We?” (page 125), “How Might You?” (page 161), and “In What Ways Might We?” (page 127). Since that 1967 publication, many additional invitation stems have been added by others, including “How Might They?”, “How Might Our Team?”, “How Might Our Organization?”, etc. Thanks to Sidney’s early work, “How Mights” have been in the public domain for decades, and have become integral to numerous creative thinking systems. Framed as questions in search of answers, “How Mights” can be seen in practical, everyday use within many innovation consultancies today, including Humantific, IDEO and many others. What’s different now is what we do with them.

See Origins of How Might We Part 2 and Part 3 here.

6. Divergence and Convergence

Deeply embedded in SidTrilogy, as well as in the field Applied Creativity itself, are three important dance steps. Do you know them? Extrapolating from JP Guilford‘s Structure of Intellect Theory (1967), and The Analysis of Intelligence (1971), Parnes and others in the Buffalo school embraced Guilford’s spirit and much of his science. Sidney once generously described Guilford as “a true astronaut of human intellect.” A giant figure in the early days of the Buffalo school, Guilford is among the celebrated Applied Creativity Hall of Famers. While his Structure of Intellect model contained 6 “Operational” dimensions, 3 “Content” dimensions, and 6 “Product” dimensions, it was two of the “Operational” dimensions that proved to be most useful in the context of Applied Creativity. Guilford called those 2 dimensions divergent and convergent production. Parnes and others embraced divergence and convergence as brain functions, thinking types, and as visible behaviors interconnected to creativity. Divergence is generally understood to be the ability to generate multiple options. Convergence is generally understood to be the ability to narrow options. What the polarities of right and left are to a direction system, light and dark are to a color system, full and empty are to a philosophy system, diverge and converge are to Applied Creativity thinking systems. Looking across histories, what is fascinating is that, while divergence and convergence played important roles in the thinking synchronization-focused Applied Creativity history, those two dimensions are not found front and center in the much less synchronization-focused Design Thinking history. That presence, and that absence, continue to have far reaching ramifications (we will write more about this another day). While in later years Guilford’s Structure of Intellect model (and the research behind it) was criticized by John Bissel Carol (he created another intellect model) and various other detractors, the notions of divergence and convergence survived intact as a useful construct, worthy of further research. Both dimensions remain central building blocks in much of Applied Creativity logic still today. Both are embedded in many current Applied Creativity methods and thinking systems, including most creative problem solving models. A close reading of the SidTrilogy suggests that by the 1970s, Parnes and his collaborators had already figured out that divergent and convergent thinking (separated by deferral of judgement) occur in every step of creative problem solving—and not just in idea finding (brainstorming). Again, this is very different from the logic of Design Thinking. Without getting too complicated, one might describe the process that Applied Creativity advocates have in mind as a particular 3-Step-Dance centering around ability to differentiate between 1. content and process, 2. divergent and convergent thinking and 3. between one step in creative problem solving and another. In SidTrilogy, that 3-Step-Dance can be seen repeating throughout. It is that dance that Sid has focused on advocating and teaching throughout his life. In Applied Creativity circles, the mastery of that dance represents the keys to the (collectively created) Promise Land. Underneath is the belief that without collective understanding of that basic dance, synchronization of thinking and action across multiple disciplines is unlikely. In the era of SidTrilogy, there were no instruments capable of determining human preference for divergence or convergence. Now there certainly are. This continues to change the enabling-innovation equation dramatically. Today, this awareness seems to be absent from numerous articles written on the subset subject of “brainstorming” (its rise, demise, and revisions), often from rather unenlightened perspectives. There is a lot going on outside those narrow pictures.

7. MetaThink ChallengeScapes

Don’t look for any insightful visual models in Guidebook. There aren’t any, but underneath the primative book design, Sid lays out a set of ideas that indicate that he and his collaborators had, in 1967, already moved beyond the idea generation (brainstorming) focused era of Alex Osborn. Synthesizing 18 years of experimentation, Guidebook presents a much more diversified Applied Creativity operationscape and toolbox. Among the most important strategic ideas visible in Guidebook, are the beginning realizations regarding how to get to “Meta.” Found early in Applied Creativity literature is the realization that challenges exist—not as isolated one-off entities, but rather in interconnected constellations. The challenge constellation idea alone changed the nature of 20th century problem finding forever. Significantly different from the “brief” (framed problem) focused Design Thinking community, the parallel community of Applied Creativity has been focused on exploring and developing tools for creating pictures of upstream challenges—Meta challenge—for decades. In SidTrilogy, it is clear that the early focus was on questioning challenge possibilities, to ensure that one was working on the right challenge. How to construct pictures of challenge (not solution) constellations, inclusive of Meta, has undergone a long history of development within the Applied Creativity community, and is still a work in progress today. Although Sidney did not, in 1967, have every nuance of what is being done in mapping, today, figured out, we still consider him to be among the pioneers of challenge constellation logic. Did Henry Ford know about automatic transmissions and GPS? No, but he was certainly important in a timeline. In the context of challenge constellation logic, so is Sidney Parnes. Today, how to make sense of fuzzy challenges or opportunities on the fuzzy front end of innovation has become an important dimension of sensemaking. Today, every major design innovation consultancy has, or would like to have, deep skills in upstream framing. Numerous variations now exist, and the mechanics are forever being reinvented. One can view the budding seeds of that historical timeline in Sid’s Guidebook, and throughout the SidTrilogy.

8. Challenges = Opportunities.

We won’t mention it to our friends over at Appreciative Inquiry but Sid Parnes was, as leader of the Buffalo School of Applied Creativity, already making the case for considering problems as opportunities in 1967—long before such ideas became popular elsewhere.

“Sometimes our long established attitudes prevent us from seeing an opportunity or challenge in a situation. Sometimes it’s hard to realize all challenges we face because we are used to thinking of challenges as conflicts and we tend to blind ourselves to some of our problems in order to feel more comfortable. If we were to reverse the procedure, and think of problems as challenges or opportunities we might be less inclined to ignore so many of them.”

Adopting even a little “Sidness” can help anyone avoid getting hung up on (often political) terminology semantics, and, instead, focus on constructive outcomes. Thanks to Sidney and others, today students of Applied Creativity advancing beyond basic skills Level 1 understand there is no real difference between a problem and an opportunity.

9. Brainstretch Exercises

Perhaps most evident in Guidebook is Sid sharing the Buffalo School version of what we call the BrainStretch Exercise Toolkit. There on the table, in convenient sequential order, Parnes places numerous Applied Creativity exercises that were later injected into zillions of behavioral-based innovation learning programs around the world. Among them, the behavior-revealing classics, such as Arms Crossed and Hands Folded, as well as others, such as Brick and Mousetrap. While hundreds of technology cycles have come and gone in forty years, the truth is, each generation of adults struggles with numerous fundamental cognitive challenges (e.g., breaking habits, framing fuzzy situations, creating new patterns, etc.) that have existed for decades. These are the human-centered dimensions of innovation that Sid and his collaborators were interested in and focused on. It is the fact that many of these challenges reappear with each new generation of organizational leaders that is among the reasons why the work of Sid Parnes has remained so relevant to so many. While some of those exercises have fallen away, others have been updated, and many from other schools of thought have been added—yes, more bundling. Today, most leading consultancies working in the realm of human behavior synchronization use a continuously changing hybrid collection of brainstretch tools and exercises. In workshops today, we can talk honestly and openly about why some challenges among us endure across multiple generations.

10. Research Questions

In the final pages of Guidebook, Sidney included a super bonus in the form of four Appendices. (See Sid’s Super Bonus below.) Perhaps most important, for those looking for dissertation suggestions, was a list of Sidney’s 52 recommendations for further Applied Creativity research—including these 10 topics below:

1. “What is the effect of various types of creative problem-solving training on an individual’s performance on Mednick’s Remote Associates Test?”

2. “When does the “best” idea occur—early or late in the idea-production process?”

3. “What are optimum lengths of sessions and optimum allocations of time for group effort in problem-solving? For individual effort?”

4. “What type of individual is most favorably affected by creativity-development programs? What are the reactions of different personality-types to these programs?”

5. “At what ages do children naturally use the principle of deferred judgment without being taught to use it?”

6. “What effect does participation in group creative sessions have upon personalities of individuals? Upon creative abilities of individuals?”

7. “What are the member roles in a group creative problem-solving session? How do these compare with those in typical group dynamics studies?”

8. “How can the creative process be analyzed in action?”

9. “What is originality? Is it an ability or attitude?”

10. “What is the proper place of critical thinking in relation to creative thinking? What is the proper balance of the two in education?”

Part of the underlying message of SidTrilogy is that once workshop participants have seen and experienced that promise land—that better world—it is up to them to self-generate it everyday. Nobody knew more about how difficult that job was going to be than Sidney J. Parnes.

Wooooo Hooooo Sidney! Thanks for so many contributions!


Sid’s Super Bonus

In the spirit of Sidney J. Parnes, we are including, in full-text, here the four Appendices from his 1967 Creative Behavior Guidebook:

Appendix 1 – Creativity: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow: This article written by JP Guildford appeared in the inaugural issue of Journal of Creative Behavior in 1967.

Appendix 2 – Applied Creativity Annotated Bibliography: A rare very detailed 30 page bibliography that provides a window into the state of Applied Creativity literature in 1967.

Appendix 3 – Survey of Applied Creativity Courses: A rare snap-shot of Applied Creativity Courses that existed in 1967.

Appendix 4 – Questions and Topics for Applied Creativity Research: A rare view into 1967 suggestions by Sid Parnes for needed Applied Creativity research.

Note: Sid Parnes authored 17 books from 1960 to 1997, including: Toward Supersanity: Channeled Freedom (1972), The Magic of Your Mind (1981), A Facilitating Style of Leadership (1985) and Source Book for Creative Problem Solving: A Fifty Year Digest of Proven Innovation Processes (1992). That list can be found on Wikipedia.

Image Source: Parnes, Sidney J. Creative Behavior Guidebook. 1967. Humantific Innovation Archives, New York.


SenseMaking / The Karl Weick Question

Hello Humantific readers. As long standing SenseMaking for ChangeMaking practitioners we are often asked this question: How does 21st century SenseMaking practice differ from Karl Weick’s SenseMaking?

Many of our clients and readers know Weick’s work well. Often the question behind the question is: How does that literature, that theory, those constructions fit with what we do at Humantific?

Widely recognized as an important American organizational psychologist and theorist, Karl E. Weick is among the pioneers of the contemporary SenseMaking movement. The author of several important books including SenseMaking in Organizations, his work connects across numerous knowledge communities of practice.

While acknowledging and appreciating Karl Weick, we think it is important to recognize that his work represents only one of several avenues that lead into what is now 21st century SenseMaking. Weick’s avenue is one that happens to have a particular texture, tone, and focus. Other avenues with different textures and tones also exist.

To place Weick in perspective we appreciate this cross-community picture:

In 1989 Richard Saul Wurman published Information Anxiety pointing out “the tsunami of data and information” already crashing on our collective shores and the need to gear up to better digest and make sense of that tsunami.

Six years later in a parallel universe Karl E. Weick published his landmark SenseMaking in Organizations.

Unfortunately, Karl did not know of Richard. The information SenseMaking consciousness and professional precisions that Wurman wrote about in 1989 are completely absent from Weick’s 1995 perspective as is any deeper information architecture/design historical recognition. Of course, it is not so unusual, even today to see one knowledge community not being aware of work going on in another community.

Weick’s work never-the-less contains many insight gems – and for those studying the broad subject of SenseMaking, I would highly recommend reading his many still relevant perspectives. Wurman’s classic, updated Information Anxiety 2 remains required reading at Humantific. In the years since those two books were published interest in SenseMaking has continued to rise, and rise and rise.

Writing in SenseMaking in Organizations in 1995, Weick’s view as an organizational scholar is not exactly aligned with what we do in everyday SenseMaking consulting practice, but there is nothing particularly contradictory there. Today, what SenseMaking has already become significantly extends the pioneering perspectives of Wurman and Weick that were, in themselves, built on the shoulders of many others who came before them. (See Note “Others” below.)

Here are five reasons why 21st century SenseMaking practice differs from Weick’s SenseMaking.

1. More Than Organizations 

Weick was/is focused at the altitude of organizations. As an organizational psychologist writing in 1995, he viewed organizations as complex learning systems. He often referred to organizations being equivalent to level eight on Kenneth Boulding’s (1956) nine level Scale of System Complexity. As important as this altitude view is in the community it is only part of where SenseMaking is focused today. At an even broader altitude, Societal SenseMakers are interested in the application of SenseMaking in less structured society, where different mechanisms come into play. Today both altitudes are extremely activated.

2. More Than Emergence 

Weick saw organizations as “interpretation systems” focused internally and externally. In Weick’s SenseMaking picture, internal organizational actors engage in collective SenseMaking, primarily through discussion, and without any specialized tools or knowledge. As an observer of organizational interpretation, Weick paints a picture of 200% emergence, 100% on the process side and 100% on the content side in a continuous cycle.

The notion of professional SenseMakers – as specialized intermediary enabling actors – does not appear in Weick’s SenseMaking picture. Today SenseMaking is not only a naturally occurring organizational or societal function that everyone participates in, it is also one being addressed by a significant, growing, and rapidly changing industry of professional enablers of organized SenseMaking – sometimes called “Distributed SenseMaking”.

In 21st century organizational and societal contexts where change is now constant, there is not always time for the machinations of 200% emergence. In many organizations, 200% emergence represents the existing conditions that organizational leaders seek to overcome and improve upon. The function of professional SenseMaking in general is to provide frameworks or scaffolds that serve as cognitive accelerators. Unless they intend to conduct an academic study, what organizational leaders are most often seeking are the tools and methods of enabling sensemaking acceleration. While not appearing in Weick’s work, many tools, frameworks and SenseMaking acceleration models now exist in practice. The insights and ideas being generated might be 100% emergent but for professional SenseMakers much has already been learned and the process is not 100% emergent in every application.

3. More Than Words

Weick saw dialogue primarily as words, so was not focused on visualization as an enabler and accelerator of SenseMaking. His work was not about exploring how visualization enhances SenseMaking. In his later 2005 writings, Weick sought to make SenseMaking more action-oriented, but still described it as “turning circumstances into a situation that is comprehended explicitly in words.” To Visual SenseMakers today, this orientation and omission contradicts his stated SenseMaking intentions. A key aspect of SenseMaking today is the deliberate construction of balance between words and visuals in recognition of the diverse manner in which humans digest information. This is a large part of what professional SenseMakers operating in organizations are actively engaged in. Not present in Weick’s work, knowledge of how to create that balance is now foundational to all forms of Visual SenseMaking practice.

4. More Than Data

In Weick’s organizational SenseMaking universe, “Operational researchers and other staff personnel perform computations on environmental data and weigh alternatives before proceeding.” Today, making sense of data is only one part of SenseMaking. Those involved in transformation/changemaking by design have already moved beyond data visualization and are enabling collective SenseMaking of the complex challenge/opportunity space, the human activities in the space, the abstract ideas in the space, etc – not just the data or information in that arena.

In the context of an increasingly complex world, SenseMaking has been broadened, repurposed, and reframed to better sync with the activities already underway in transformation practice. This represents significant change for those involved in next generation design practice, transformation practice – whatever you want to call that.

Part of the challenge in studying Weick is that in his writing on the subject of SenseMaking he did not walk the walk as Wurman did. Much of Weick’s writing is jargon-filled, academic, and somewhat impenetrable. Weick was primarily focused on his own scholarly academic tribal audience.

In addition, Weick’s writing on the subject rarely contained visualization. For every 2000 words, you might see one small visual model. The protocols that he was writing to were those of academia, not of diverse cognition.

In contrast, Wurman was interested in directing his insights at the general public. His explanations signaled knowledge of cognitive balancing. Missing from Weick’s work, today this kind of awareness is considered in practice to be part of Visual SenseMaking 101.

5. More Than Learning 

Weick was/is more attuned to organizational learning as a form of action and less oriented towards design, transformation, problem solving or changemaking modes and methods. His three-part process of Scanning, (Data Collection), Interpretation (Data Given Meaning), and Learning (Action Taken) maps primarily to the front-end of transformation process. He makes no methodical connection to the remainder of the transformation cycle. Today SenseMakers with deep innovation methods knowledge are more directly placing SenseMaking in a ChangeMaking methodological context.

Connections are being made not just between interpretation and learning, but between understanding, directly informing ChangeMaking as a form of enlightened deliberate action. Today savy organizations are working on making more robust connections between ongoing SenseMaking and ongoing ChangeMaking. This is Level 10 SenseMaking connected directly to a sharable ChangeMaking cocreation process.

Theoretical Foundations / Forward Motions

Today SenseMaking sits at the intersections of multiple realms of knowledge, underpinned by numerous interconnected theoretical foundations that one can certainly study including: information theory, learning theory, organizational development theory, organizational psychology, knowledge creation theory, cognitive theory, communication theory, systems theory, emergence theory, complexity theory, chaos theory, design theory, innovation theory, social network theory, problem solving theory, anticipatory science theory, futurology & foresight theory, behavioral change theory, transformation by design, etc.

In spite of the zillions of related theories, a lot of great thinking, and considerable research, there is not one solid, encompassing theoretical foundation for what SenseMaking is becoming. Needless to say, we are, at Humantific, interested in participating in the reformulation of what SenseMaking is evolving into. Like so many other realms of knowledge, we recognize SenseMaking as a pattern, a knowledge arena in forward motion.

If you look closely underneath the Design Thinking revolution, we believe you will find that it primarily involves the scaling up of SenseMaking. Inward and outward directed human-centered research has all become part of SenseMaking. For some of us, the scaling up of SenseMaking is the revolution within the Design Thinking and ChangeMaking revolutions.

In 2011 The Institute of the Future in California identified SenseMaking among Future Work Skills 2020. Since then many other organizations have taken interest and have begun capacity building in one form or another. In the global marketplace there continues to be significant interest in onboarding Future Work Skills 2020.

For all the natural born SenseMakers out there, and those who strive to become involved, this is all good news! At Humantific we are delighted to be part of the ever evolving Visual SenseMaking community.

Big thanks to Karl Weick and Richard Wurman for their many contributions.

Hope this is helpful.


Note to Readers: Other Visual SenseMakers

Those studying this subject might be interested to note that Visual SenseMaking in the context of organizations and societies has a very long history.

Fifty or so years prior to the Wurman and Weick publications referenced above numerous societal SenseMaking works were published by Otto Neurath & Isotype, circa 1937-1945. Isotype created an entire SenseMaking visual language toolkit that remains influential still today.

Twenty eight years earlier Willard C. Brinton published Graphic Methods for Presenting Facts in 1917.

Many 19th Century Atlases contained Societal SenseMaking in the form of hand drawn diagrams.

One hundred thirty years prior to Graphic Methods for Presenting Facts, and two hundred+ years prior to Wurman and Weick, William Playfair published the landmark Commercial and Political Atlas in 1786.


Humantific: Isotype Building Bridges
Humantific: The Inclusion Factor: Isotype
Humantific: Before During and After Isotype


Teaching Complexity Navigation

VHA, a leading health care alliance network is working with Humantific to bring next generation design thinking to its internal consulting group tasked with helping thousands of member hospitals tackle a diversity of wicked problems.

VHA has multiple waves of consulting teams in the Complexity Navigation Program inclusive of skill-building in Strategic Co-Creation, Design Research, and Visual Sense-Making. Deeply committed to being customer-centered VHA serves 1,400 not-for-profit hospitals and more than 21,000 non-acute care health care organizations as members of its nationwide network.  With the health care industry facing never before encountered fuzzy challenges VHA seeks to proactively help its hospital members meet the change, adaptability and innovation challenges of the 21st century.

After the completion of the program we made several small spontaneous videos to capture feedback from graduates who are now Complexity Navigators.

See Case Studies here.

Complexity Navigation Feedback 1

Complexity Navigation Feedback 2

Complexity Navigation Feedback 3

For more information contact: programs (at) humantific (dot) com