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Undiscovered Country?

Updated: Jan 28

Welcome back Humantific Readers:

This week we are returning to one of our core subjects to share a few updated 2024 observations with you.

When a subject is being perceived as an undiscovered country and now a gold rush what tends to occur is that it evolves into a kind of bouncy, stormy, wild west show. You might have noticed that this has happened, is happening, to the beloved subject of sensemaking, whether we all like it or not. The wild west thing has already happened to other beloved subjects including design thinking and it is probably happening to systems thinking too.

It is no secret that when there is a perceived consulting gold rush, lots of discombobulations tend to arrive with it. In this bumpy context it is useful to have a robust discombobulation detector as well as a sense of humor…:-) 

The evidence in the marketplace clearly shows that calling everything sensemaking, sense-making or sense making does not mean it actually makes sense..:-)


One thing we do notice is that most of the arriving folks posting on the subject in various Linkedin discussion groups, whether they are involved in the complexity arenas or not, can be seen assuming that the narrow Weick/Dervin Root Stream represents the broad sensemaking picture.

Since that is false, it is not difficult to see that there is a widespread sense of narrowing occurring, which results in a loss of awareness regarding the many dimensions of value that adaptive sensemaking brings, how it has evolved, what has been figured out, what it is now.

Many of our readers will know that Humantific has published numerous materials on the subject, spanning a couple of decades, but if I had to choose one diagram for new readers looking for an overview it would be this one below. 

To place the two Root Streams in perspective in terms of depth, longevity, evolution, adaptability, real world applications and history, the Weick/Dervin Root Stream is circa 1990s.

The Neurath/Wurman Root Stream has astonishing deep roots, upon roots, spanning a 200+ year period. Even if we don’t go back to the influential very early work of Joseph Priestley (1733-1804) and William Playfair (1759-1823) who published their explanatory business oriented diagrams in the 18th century, the work that followed is in itself monumental and cascading forward.

That would include the 1920s-1940s work of the Otto Neurath / Gerd Arntz / Marie Neurath studio, known as Isotype Institute that is widely acknowledged to have made enormous contributions to what would be considered as Societal SenseMaking today. Much of what Isotype Institute was doing was making sense of data in order to enable understanding, that would, in turn, help to drive change at the scale of societies.

Images Source: There’s Work For All, The New Democracy Series. 1945. By Michael Young & Theodor Prager. Diagrams by the Isotype Institute. Humantific Collection, New York.

Richard Wurman called his early practice “The Understanding Business”, noting that “understanding precedes action”. Richard has authored 30+ books on the subject of understanding, making complex subjects clear. See related links below.

For those who might not know (including apparently Karl Weick himself): The notion of: “Making the complex clear” has been a staple of Neurath/Wurman Root Stream builders for many decades….long before Mr. Weick arrived.

Our own Humantific / SenseMaking for ChangeMaking practice stands on many shoulders and consciously, with considerable effort, extends that work into the present and future with a particular focus on inclusion, adaptation and change.


Many of our readers will know that the notion that information can be and needs to be shaped in inclusive ways and that know-how can be and is being transported into cognitive inclusion, inclusive methodologies, inclusive team dynamics and inclusive culture building is coming from the Neurath/Wurman Root Stream NOT from the Weick/Dervin Root Stream. 

You might notice that consultant followers of Karl Weick are typically not seen talking about how to build inclusive information fields, inclusive teams or inclusive cultures. See our previously published: SenseMaking: The Karl Weick Question and Isotype: The Inclusion Factor.

One hidden in plain-sight, not-so-secret, elephant in the living room of this evolving subject, known to seasoned practitioners, including us, is that organizations cannot get to cognitively inclusive culture via the Weick/Dervin Root Stream alone. That’s a little bombshell that deserves an entire conversation at another time and place...:-)

How does sensemaking practice today differ from what prescient Otto Neurath and his Isotype Institute was doing? What was missing from the Isotype equation? All good conversations to have.

Suffice it to say that when we have a SenseMaking for ChangeMaking party at Humantific we want all the pioneers to be present with us….respectfully, not just Karl Weick…:-) See previously published: The Power of Think Blending.

At the end of the day, in the face of the discombobulation storm, around sensemaking its best to find a thinking partner, a solid practice-based team to work with, one that you are comfortable with, not theorizing heavy, and one that can share with you all the value that sensemaking now has to offer as fuel for, not just decision-making (convergent thinking) but rather for innovation, adaptation and driving change.

We hope this is helpful readers.  


Good luck to all and let’s try not to step in any of those gold-rush discombobulations out there….:-)

More to come soon in Humantific books. 

Happy to Reshare Previously Published:

Neurath/Wurman Root Stream Related:

Program Note: Many of our readers will know that we have for more than a decade been teaching Visual SenseMaking to organizational leaders in many countries around the world as part of our Complexity Navigation Program. If you have any questions in this regard send us an email: kickitup (at) humantific (dot) com



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