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05 “Sensemaking”: Your technique for understanding the world

by Achim Feige

Dear Transformers, dear co-creators, dear shapers of a new age!

Be proud of yourself. In the past weeks you have accomplished a lot. You have gathered information. You have let go for a few moments in Ego Death of what so often holds you back, in your personal life as well as in your business, and now have a first inkling of how much potential you actually have.

But there is a new challenge.

You’ve climbed the mountain, you’ve stepped out of yourself, you’ve experienced a moment of “ecstasy.” Now it can seem sobering when you turn back to the world. How now to implement what you have learned? There is still a lot of chaos in the world, a lot of bitter disputes of opinions, a lot of egoism – just because you have changed does not mean that this is true for everyone.

We are now entering a new phase, now our Growing Up begins. Everything I called the Climbing the Mountain, discovering self-authorship, flow techniques, transcendence and ego death, that was our Showing Up. We prepared ourselves with flow, overcame ourselves, opened ourselves. Now begins the second of three stages: Growing Up. This is the integration after ekstasis.

It starts with a big challenge: you come back to high complexity. The post-truth society. This is our drama as we begin to radically change. It sometimes seems unsolvable.

But only at first glance.

In reality, it is not only solvable, but the path is mapped out. You will connect the new experiences and the world to a new meaning. You even have to! Because what happens if you don’t do that, if you don’t put your insights gathered from the summit into a context with the seemingly chaotic world? Then they stand by themselves and are of no use to you. Exciting ideas and experiences remain without context. Then you don’t grow, don’t integrate the new information, don’t form a new meaning.

But that is the big task now: to form meaning.

We will have to comprehend more from now on, hold more information, even contradictory information. We are lost if we believe that the truth can be found somewhere outside. At least the daily news is always reliable, never has to be questioned? Wrong! At least this one party or that other grouping is always right? Also wrong. Our new thinking will never be like that. There is not even “the” science. That was one of the great errors of thinking in the Corona era, which may go down in history as a sad example of failed, false debate culture. How much dogmatism was justified at that time with the firm belief in “the” science – while it is part of the essence of science that it is never one-dimensional, that every thesis must always be put to the test, that everything must always be questioned.

We will question all sources, take all perspectives once, and scrutinize every medium. We are doomed to make our own sense!

The big task is: sense making. Sensemaking, as it is called in the very current US-American philosophy.

We have climbed a mountain and been to the top, enjoying the view. Now when we descend again, there is just as much to do as on the way there – because we now have to integrate what we have learned and build our new worldview. Building meaning means making connections. New connections. The etymology of “sense” is not entirely clear, but presumably the word comes from the Old High German word for “travel.” That fits our thinking! One who travels perceives quite a lot (the Latin sentire for feeling/perceiving is also a possible root of “sense”), and must connect this. Make connections. Exactly: form sense.

We want to be able to say again, “This makes sense to me.”

Philosopher Daniel Schmachtenberger says we need “agency and not despair.” Schmachtenberger is, in my view, a very important voice of cultural criticism and philosophy in the United States. He stays away from universities, giving his lectures on the Internet or at his own private institute in California. There is no Wikipedia entry about him. Yet even the makers of this year’s big Oscar winner, “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” recently called him their main inspiration.

Agency and not despair, that means: we want agency, we want to have an impact, we’re taking things back into our own hands now. (That is agency). This is the only way to avoid despair. Without good sensemaking we cannot even set out to act in the world and make a difference.

You will barely survive a day as a leader in today’s VUKA world if you take everything at face value. (VUKA = volatile, uncertain, complex and ambivalent.) So you have to make your sense. So when we descend, we ask ourselves: What have I experienced here now, what does my new world look like?

I would like to give you the tools for this today. I have a simple technique of three questions:

What is?

So what?

What now?

In the first step, you ask about things: What is? We only perceive here. We collect information and data, do not evaluate yet, look, let the world in. After that, you should ask yourself self-critically: Have I now absorbed enough? Have I become acquainted with a sufficient number of different perspectives? Have I opened myself to new topics?

Secondly, when this has happened, you form your hypotheses! This is what is behind the question: So what? It means: What does this tell me? What do I learn from it? How does this help me be more successful, move forward? To manage my department better, to master my tasks smarter, to have better control of my life? In short: Which problems can I solve better than before?

And not until the third step do we ask: What now? There you will act concretely. There (only) you ask yourself: What are the action steps?

And now the sentence “This makes sense to me” is justified, now you can build your actions on it. You can finally make sense to yourself and to others. Whoever incorporates these three steps of sensemaking into his daily actions, practices them in workshops, for example, and takes them with him into everyday life, will then listen openly and without prejudice, keep the inner space open for a long time, and then decide consciously and prudently. Alone or in a team.

From this new point of view, it also becomes much easier to hold together the contradictions in the company. Because let’s be honest: All those projects, and all of them at the same time, who’s supposed to keep track? So many voices in the company are talking at you, so many schools and directions want to point the way. There’s an answer to that, too: Don’t chase after every trend! Inner sovereignty means, as explained above, to perceive the world and first let it pass by. Let everything affect you, then act.

With this synthesis of the different information we form our sense without prejudice. We do not immediately divide everything into good and bad, right and wrong. First we listen and perceive. Only in this way do we eventually become the Big Mind that keeps track even in the chaotic world.

Whoever wants to master integration, seeing through and understanding, also needs training. Because it takes practice, and it takes meaningful practices of how to take in information.

As a practice this week, I recommend the so-called Dopamine Effort. (See below.) Pay attention to your dopamine circuit. Dopamine is the reward hormone in the brain. It’s released when we’ve done the 2000 meter swim, when the complex presentation went well, when the new product comes out. Earn it, integrate it! If you only enjoy, you lead your brain into a dead end. Unfortunately, as we all know, such wrong practices of quick enjoyment are also part of our culture: alcohol, internet porn, stimulating substances, quick confirmation through likes and clicks. I’m not passing moral judgment on them, but I am saying that they are all neurologically unfavorable. Your nervous system must remember that the gods put work before success.

This does not mean that we will only struggle from now on. On the contrary. Sensemaking will soon mean that things will get easier. Try it out! The path is worth it.