The world of work is constantly changing and the skillsets we will need to be successful are evolving faster than you can google ‘soft skills training’. Well, faster than I could google it, typing speed was never something I could boast on my resume. So if you still have proficiency in Microsoft Office listed as a skill you might need to brush up on some of the more recently recognised skills of the future. Sensemaking is one of those skills according to the Institute for the Future. The institute lists sensemaking amongst the 10 key skills for the future workforce alongside skills like computational thinking and social intelligence, you can check out the full list here.

According to Klein, Moon and Hoffman, authors of ‘Making sense of sensemaking’, it is “the process of creating situational awareness and understanding in situations of high complexity or uncertainty in order to make decisions. It is a motivated, continuous effort to understand connections (which can be among people, places, and events) in order to anticipate their trajectories and act effectively.”

As our work practices become more agile and collaborative, the ability for a group of people to collectively ideate is important. But it isn’t very effective if you can’t take the assortment of ideas, inputs and nuanced meanings and make sense of them.

There are two main academic players when it comes to the theory of sensemaking Karl Weick and Brenda Dervin. Weick has a long revered model that lists the seven properties of sensemaking: social context, personal identity, retrospect, salient cues, ongoing events, plausibility and enactment. Weick is a great place to start if you’d like to read deeper on the topic.

Before you jump head first into sensemaking with others, I invite you to spend a moment contemplating my theory that sensemaking actually starts with sensory input. That is using your own five senses fully. Scientific American Mind writers Janina Seubert and Christina Regenbogen, are somewhat inclined to agree with me. They explain that our senses are really the source of how we make an impression of the world and people around us. “Our ability to perceive the emotions of others relies on combinations of cues from sounds, sights and even smells.”

Fascinating sidebar – this article from Harvard Medical school gives an interesting take on whether we do in fact have just five senses or perhaps more…But even if we’re just focusing on the five commonly recognised ones, being tuned in to all the inputs available to you means you can sensemake from a more complete data set. You are also exercising your mindfulness and self awareness, two attributes you’ll need to get to that other top 10 skill – social intelligence.

Lena Groeger from Scientific American says living with a heightened sensory awareness is something most of us only do when we’re on holiday. “Half the reason we go away is to immerse ourselves in the sensory experiences around us. Once we are home, however, we tend to neglect this same need. Life can take on a grey drabness as we switch back onto autopilot, and become disconnected from the full range of our senses.” Sounds like reason enough to me to give it a go but if you still need some convincing, psychologist and life coach Dr Sally Ann Law lists other benefits too, “First, we appreciate more of the world around us, which adds to the quality of our lives, and second, we make better decisions based on our whole, authentic selves, rather than just part of ourselves. We have all our five senses because they help us, from an evolutionary point of view, so we should try to use them.”

I’ve been working on building my sensory skills by being present and spending time focusing on them individually and to a deeper level than I would day to day. You can do it too, to get started you will need to set aside some time to make this a conscious process. Be spatially aware of what is around you. Start by tuning in to your vision. What can you see? What colours or shapes are around you? Really look at all the details. Focus on the people, what are they telling you with their position, posture, gesture and movement? What is in your periphery that you wouldn’t usually pay any attention to?

Now focus on hearing in the same way. What can you hear when you really listen? What are all the sounds you are picking up? When you are listening to people speaking, listen to more than just their words, listen to how they are saying them. How are they breathing? What is their volume and intonation? Asking more questions is another great sensory builder –as you can try to identify all of the sensory responses you receive. If you set aside a small amount of time each day to consciously build sensory perception over time you will see the benefits in the productivity of your collaborative work with others.

In case you needed any further convincing of the benefits of strengthening your sensory perception, Associate Editor at the Psychology website PsychCentral Margarita Tartakovsky says, “Sharpening our senses is essential for cultivating our creativity. And I believe it’s also essential for living a beautiful, meaningful life.” Now go forth, and sense your way into a happy future.


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