Do You Outsource Your Sensemaking?


I think a lot about how people get their information and why they believe what they believe. What's "news" and what does it mean to share "news" or any other information honestly, say, via social media? Do you know what you're sharing is true, or is it just something you agree with, that supports your views? Are you propagating a meme, or sharing information honestly?


As The Consilience Project's Daniel Schmachtenberger says in Part I of The War on Sensemaking, just as you wouldn't throw trash out of your car window, don't pollute the information ecology. You have to do sensemaking well before you share. How many steps removed are you from the original story or data or facts? Yes, there are facts, and in most cases you have access to the actual facts of the case or idea-in-question. From climate change to gun violence to Covid-related concerns, where do your opinions come from? You form opinions based on certain evidence or other information, right? What is that evidence or other information?

Almost everyone has given up on making sense of the world, but they just haven't admitted that. - Daniel Schmachtenberger

On Outsourcing Sensemaking

You don't think of it this way, but when you share that New York Times article or that CNN clip that you agree with, it's likely because you've outsourced your sensemaking to them. You respect the work they do and believe they've got "the facts" and are reporting them in an unbiased way.


And when you share that New York Times article or that CNN clip as an example of how ridiculous they are, you've likely outsourced your sensemaking to a news outlet on "the other side." What does this mean? Propaganda is alive and well in the USA, and "almost everyone" is part of the process.


Whichever group/"side" you are closest to in your beliefs is likely the one you will outsource your sensemaking to.


"News" is a commodity. As such, those who own news outlets need to focus on ideas that will spread, and they have to focus on creating spreadable ideas. What's spreadable in 2022? Short, sensational, outraging or otherwise evocative, and it will keep you engaged wherever you're consuming it. It's designed to keep you on the site or channel.


Mindfulness Isn't Short or Sensational

Despite my offering of short mindfulness practices, and despite the reality that those short practices are more likely to turn into a daily practice than 45-minute practices, it's the 45-minute ones that provide the space and guidance for handling The Unwanted. The real benefit is being able to sit with your own discomfort and not immediately pivot away from it or try to change it. But who wants to hear that or investigate it further? Why not focus on a different benefit of the practice that people want to hear about, such as mental toughness or improving your performance at work?

The ideas that win are the ones that win in narrative warfare. ... Often the best ideas aren't well-marketed or even marketable. - Daniel Schmachtenberger

Truly contemplative endeavors such as mindfulness don't catch on because people aren't doing what they know is necessary in today's narrative wars to propagate the idea.


Some brands of mindfulness will succeed, but not the contemplative brands. The ones that promise better performance or happiness or well-being might, but contemplation for its own sake isn't exactly a sexy topic. Getting people to pay attention involves pushing a valued outcome or inciting outrage or convincing someone they need your service or product. If you have a focus on the spreading of the idea, it will spread more.


What are you optimizing for?

I've been a fan of The Center for Humane Technology (CHT) since its inception and I recently finished their Foundations of Humane Technology, which is free, by the way, and not just for people in UX/CX/LX design. It's for parents, educators, and stewards of a planet-at-risk. And if you, too, have followed CHT, do know that the course has more than was available via the website, its SMEs, and its podcast, Your Undivided Attention. Plus, it's organized by themes that kind of retroactively put structure to the previous content. You may know that the film, The Social Dilemma, is based on CHT's work. CHT and its amazing roster of experts have informed my thinking and my work for years.


Here's the kind of thing you think more about once you're paying attention to technology design: Whatever your business idea is, once you're "putting it out there," how are you doing that and what are you optimizing for? If the Internet is involved at all (e.g., website, marketing), what do you want to see that will tell you you are reaching the people you want to reach? And then once you reach them, what do they need to see or hear or know to get them to engage and purchase your product or service?


And if your business idea is a technology, what are you designing it for? Yes, you have content, but how are you hoping people are going to interact with it? You can influence their interactions; what will your choices be? How will you manipulate your prospects, customers, and users?


This system of saying what needs to be said to get people to listen, and designing in a way that drives people to do what you want them to do basically incentivizes dishonesty, outrage, and hyperbole.


Sensemaking and optimization are related. Both involve two forces: one has an agenda that will be designed to either manipulate or connect and educate/explain; and the other may not be doing the not-so-easy work of interacting with information in an honest way. You are on one or both sides of this equation. What choices are you going to make going forward?


Your choices tell the world what kind of person you are.


May ease find you.

mm