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The 6th Sense: Sense-Making & LEx Leadership
An essay by R.J. (Bob) Westrope & Judith M. Koke
From that first moment of sentience – of self-awareness - it is an existential imperative that we understand the world that we find ourselves in. To learn how to secure love, to be fed, to be sheltered, and then increasingly how to find our place - our role - within our family, and then the street we live on, the school we go to, the faith we attend to, the society we live in. And so on.
And from that first moment we grasp at the tools our environment provides us to make life’s journey easier. The familial rules that govern how and under what circumstance we secure love (and give it), food and shelter, and then the religion, language, culture, class, education, geography and history that not only informs the lives of our parents, and ALL of those around us, but likewise informed ALL of those before them.
With this knowledge we grow into adulthood, unmindful of that existential imperative even as it now shapes our very existence. It defines how we portray ourselves to the world, and much more importantly, how we see ourselves in that world. The answers to the grand questions of life – of being - are provided for us by the legacy of our past, leaving us now the simpler task of getting through life employing the tools intrinsic to that legacy.
And yet, surely, we are born autonomous and sovereign, bound in the instant following birth only by the limits of our DNA. We are each a blank book of limitless possibilities yet to be written – that is until the next instant when our life acclimation process begins.
As we approach maturity, we leverage what we know to be true to decide what future to pursue – what school to go to, what partner to partner with, what job to seek. If all goes well – with the implicit validation of self that success infers - we find ourselves as leaders creating new realities and possibilities for others by building new companies, leading labor movements, teaching, preaching, policing or governing – to name just a few human pursuits.
And yet the imperative to make sense of your world never ceases to be existential. There is no more important attribute that is sought by all, but ever more so by leaders, than to know our environment. To be blindsided by a school-yard bully, a competitor, an opponent or your child almost certainly means your knowledge of your environment was insufficient. The Cambridge Dictionary says that to know something is to “have information in your mind”. In these examples, the information in your mind was insufficient. It failed both you, and those that interact with and depend on you. Sometimes with catastrophic effect.
How many governments, movements or ventures have failed, how many wars fought, pogroms or genocides perpetrated, injustices imposed and suffered, or opportunities lost because the information in the minds of the leaders was insufficient. How many times did you choose the wrong school, partner or vocation, how many opportunities were missed - how many times have you failed, because the information you had in your mind was insufficient?
But was it the information that was insufficient, or your definition of what you understood to be knowledge?
Making sense of today’s world is for the first time existential at the personal, societal and global level. Our technologies are connecting us at breakneck speed and with unimagined capability, while providing us possibilities that have the real potential to lead us either to utopia, or a much meaner place. Many of the legacies that define us suggest we have as much of a future for humanity as we have a past, granting us the time to eventually solve the problems we face.
We can no longer take this for granted. That humanity has prevailed through the past experience of our worst – and best – behaviour cannot be counted on as we face the near future. The breathtaking implications of exponential advances in computational power impact every technology, every society – every person – and is revealing the ‘information in our minds’ to be insufficient to the challenge.
At all levels, the technologies that seek to enrich and simplify our lives, paradoxically and bewilderingly make them vastly more complex. The consequence of 140 character mass communication shows this to be so.
This inflection point, this pivot point in human history - comes at a time when humans have never been exposed to more new learnings from a staggering number of new sources, but with what we know to be true never less clear. The erosion of the confidence that we had in our personal narrative that was informed by what our parents, faith and cultures told us to be true, has led to a sense of soulful insecurity for some, or worse, the purposeful ignoring or denial of the new realities by too many.
As a leader this is confounding. We see the tantalizing futures we seek almost within reach, but with more and more challenges of increasing urgency and complexity, impeding our way. As leaders, we continue to do what we were programmed to do - to seek ‘better’ and paradoxically shorter answers to address the insufficiency of information in our minds. We do that by reading personal development, self-help and the “top 8 things that every successful leader must do” books – which, like diets are faddish and, in the end, almost always doomed to failure. The quip attributed to Albert Einstein has never been more relevant, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results”.
The world we live in today is being defined by a desperate competition between those that believe in the infinite possibilities of our future and the glory of human potential, versus those who instead seek comfort and security in the things they have known to be true from their perceived past. The toxic absurdity playing out in Washington may be the most topical example, but the same phenomena is manifest in capitals from London, Paris, Rome and Berlin to Warsaw, Budapest, and Ankara.
But it is the social credit experiment of the People’s Republic of China that perhaps best illustrates the potential to ‘dead-end’ human development – to fix a desired status quo – a potential near future we may all face if technology is not employed with ‘sufficient information’ in our minds.
First announced in 2014, the objective of the program is to cement the belief that “keeping trust is glorious and breaking trust is disgraceful”, where ‘good’ citizenship behaviour (as defined by the state) is rewarded by the system, and ‘bad’ behaviour punished. By 2020 the compulsory program will gather and process state and non-state data sources on an individual - from their primary school marks to their real-time social media activity - to establish the individual’s dynamic social credit score.
Infractions include posting fake news (as defined by state censors), bad driving, buying too many video games or smoking in a no-smoking zone. Though not fully deployed until 2020, the system is being implemented on a regional basis – with twelve million citizens subjected to outright internal travel bans, and nine million more blocked from buying tickets for domestic flights in 2018 due to their low scores. Likewise, persons with low scores are being denied access to high bandwidth internet, the best schools, jobs, hotels, healthcare – even pet ownership.
This is not some theoretical Orwellian future. This system exists today. It is increasingly the exemplar for many around the world that see it as the foundation for not only autocratic governance, but of ‘illiberal’ democracies as defined by Hungary’s Viktor Orban. Moreover, in the techno-driven disruption of the near future, it is possible to imagine liberal democracies accepting similar controls if stressed by extreme economic distress or terrorism.
For the first time in human history – in our near future - we can contemplate a state where organized opposition is simply no longer feasible. In such a state it is impossible to imagine that the pressing existential issues of our day – climate change, income inequality, nuclear proliferation, social justice, the nature of work to name a few – can and will be addressed in a manner that secures the best possible future for humanity.
Is the prospect of a dystopian future certain? Certainly not. There is far more evidence in the wonder that is humanity to suggest that we will together find that best possible future. But still, the odds that our newly connected species will take a tragically errant step are uncomfortably high and getting higher. The possibility that that dystopian future might be possible means that all exertions must be made to guarantee that it is not.
This paper assumes that the human species has 10 to 20 years to organize the conduct of its nations, cultures, economies, religions, ideologies and people in such a way so as to be able to shape a positive future - all the while avoiding the daily catastrophes that have always dogged our path.
In a very short period of time we need to connect, empower and mobilize a global community of people who accept the possibility of both futures - and are united in their determination to transform community and sectoral leadership so that we create the one marked by the pursuit of wonder as opposed to one of squalid mediocrity. That is why Leaders Expedition (LEx) was founded with the moonshot objective of elevating one million members to positions of influence, power and impact by 2029: from the classroom to the boardroom to the legislature.
In a world that is ever more tribal, we are creating a new tribe, one that is inescapably and unapologetically global – one that is defined by our Tenets. However, unlike other tribes that by definition seek first to insulate and distinguish themselves from those around them, we seek to engage with the people within those tribes who share our commitment to the future. From villages, towns, cities and nations; from cultures, classes, religions and ideologies; to the grand sectors that are impacting us all, we must prevail in our pursuit of a positive future.
This challenge would be audacious enough if we had a century to achieve our objective. But clearly, we don’t. In a dauntingly short period of time we need to devise a means of creating and sharing a common sufficiency of “information in our minds”, that facilitates true understanding as the precursor of systemic collaboration. And in the process, perhaps change our lives.
Scientists theorize that mathematics or the periodic table may prove to be common languages of life throughout the universe – ones that we might use to communicate with alien life. But what do we use to talk with each other – in this moment?
We noted above that at the instant of birth we are born autonomous and sovereign, each endowed with the same senses. This is the moment in time when we are all truly of humankind, each sharing the same experience. We are all then subject to the cultural and societal conditioning which we refer to above and begin the lifelong remediation process to augment what we know to be true. We consult consultants, advisers, coaches, spiritual leaders, we take courses, we read self-help books – all trying to make better sense of the world around us, of trying to better the information in our minds.
This essay posits that there is a 6th sense that we are all born with, and it is the native instinct we share at birth. It is called, quite naturally, sense making. We are born sense makers, our very survival dependent on our ability to make sense of the inputs of our five senses.
We believe that the challenge is to employ sense-making to inform the remedial learning process that as adults we must look to make sense of our world as a precondition to engaging in and interacting with it. It follows that if we are constantly tasked with the remediation of the information in our minds – the more effective solution may to be teach our young this vital competence so that less and less remediation is required.
It is not our argument that there should be no psycho/social acclimation, for certainly every human being requires grounding, but rather that the process of life acclimation, of self-awareness, should start with a sense making competence - to actively open ourselves to 360° situational awareness in our personal and professional lives, and our passion pursuits. We believe that doing so makes it much more likely that individuals sharing this competence will be better able to see through their conditioning to come to shared understanding and resolution of the seemingly intractable challenges we face – not always, but certainly much more often.
For Leaders Expedition (LEx), we start with our Tenets – our Vision, Mission, Charter and Core Values – this is our value system. They inescapably speak to a western heritage but have been crafted to be resonant with the evolving understanding of what it means to be human and to empower each of us to be the best us/you that we can be. Put in more concrete terms, our objectives align precisely with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals – our intent (among other things) being to provide the leadership cohort that assures that those goals can be met.
This is not a philosophical text. From Descartes to Heidegger there has been an iterative, evolutionary investigation and distillation of this sixth sense. To discuss this great body of work is beyond the scale, scope and intent of this practical essay (see bibliography of suggested reading), but rather we will draw on the study and research of sense-making – a framework developed in philosophy and organizational behaviour to as a tool improve our sense and decision making capacities.
Each and every one of us has been born into a given historical reality, ruled by particular norms and values, and managed by a unique economic and political system. We take this reality for granted, thinking it natural, inevitable and immutable. We forget that our world was created by an accidental chain of events, and that history shaped not only our technology, politics and society, but also our thoughts, fears and dreams. The cold hand of the past emerges from the graves of our ancestors, grips us by the neck and directs our gaze towards the single future. We have felt that grip from the moment we were born, so we assume that it is a natural and inescapable part of who we are. Therefore, we seldom try to shake ourselves free, and envision alternative futures.
Studying history aims to loosen the grip of the past. It enables us to turn our heads this way and that and begin to notice possibilities that our ancestors could not imagine, or didn’t want us to imagine. By observing the accidental chain of events that led us here, we realize how our very thoughts and dreams took shape – and we can begin to think and dream differently. Studying history will not tell us what to choose, but at least it gives us more options.
What is SenseMaking?
Fortunately, sense-making is nothing more than a scholarly articulation of something that comes quite naturally to us: we recognize, act upon, create, recall, and apply patterns from the material of our lived experience to impose order on that lived experience, and to move into the future.
This essay posits sense-making as a process or capability that describes how we map and understand (make meaning or sense of) our environment or situation so as to be able to make decisions and act in it. Described by Karl Weick in the 1970’s in his organizational studies research, sense-making first described the collaborative cognitive process of creating a shared awareness and understanding in an organization comprising multiple perspectives and experiences. Weick argued that sense-making is less a discrete tool employed in specific moments – like budgeting – and more a consciousness of how we move through the world daily, which, in turn, shifts how we think about planning, research, decision-making and action.
As stated by Sloan/MIT professor Deborah Ancona:
Sense-making involves coming up with a plausible understanding of a shifting world; testing this map with others through data collection, action and conversation; and then refining, or abandoning, the map, depending on how credible it is. Sense-making enables leaders to have a better grasp of what is going on in their environments, thus facilitating other leadership activities such as visioning, relating and inventing.
In his landmark book Sense-making in Organizations, Karl Weick outlines a series of seven inter-twined and ongoing properties which each simultaneously incorporate action and reflection. Sense-making is understood as being:
Grounded in identity construction
How we understand ourselves in relation to the world around us shapes the decisions we make.
One’s current situation shapes how one understands past experiences. Concurrently, one’s understanding of the present is shaped by past experiences.
Enactive of sensible environments
As we speak and act, we clarify our own understandings, thus constructing our reality. We partly shape our environment; our environment partly shapes us.
How and what becomes sensible depends on our socialization: where we grew up in the world, how we were taught to be in the world, where we are located now in the world, the people with whom we are currently interacting. When we act we are seeking information about how others are responding, and use that data to further shape our understanding.
We learn, build meaning and act on our environment all at the same time. As we act, we are gathering data about the impact of those actions and immediately begin to incorporate these data into our understanding. We change our minds when we see the impact of our actions.
Focused on and by extracted cues
People focus on moments out of continuous flows of moments and extract cues from those moments. We work to connect and interpret these novel and new cues through our existing frames of understanding – linking new ideas to familiar structures to develop an improved sense of what might be occurring. However, we each choose to extract different cues, and hence develop different understandings.
Favour plausibility rather than accuracy
Sense-making is driven by the need for a workable level of understanding to guide action, rather than by a search for a single truth. When faced with complete uncertainty or information overload, leaders simplify and streamline information needs to make plausible but timely decisions.
These are concurrent properties and not steps, as the process is not linear, but employs constant reflection and the reconstruction of understanding as new experiences and ideas are incorporated. The work of action is equally to gather additional information as it is to move forward in a direction.
Sense-making is a vital competency in an unpredictable world of constant and dramatic change, where even 3-year strategic plans are deemed outdated the moment they are completed. To support action and decision-making we must first describe the situation we are responding to – the world as we best understand it in this moment. This act of articulating what we see and understand is the precursor to choosing a response. Yet, how much can we really know? As well, when we act, the act itself changes the world we just described. We are essentially playing and inventing the game at the same time.
“What distinguishes great leaders from average leaders is their ability to perceive the nature of the game and the rules by which it is plays, as they are playing it.” (emphasis ours).
We would add that great leaders see the act itself – and the world’s response to that act – as new information in the sense-making process.
Other authors have built on Weick’s work, describing the application of Sense-making in the military, digital, and organizational development settings. Most recently, Christian Madsbjerg suggests Sense-making provides a useful antidote to a world infatuated with the quantitative potential of big data. In his 2017 book Sense-making: The Power of the Humanities in the Age of the Algorithm, Madsbjerg underscores the weakness of using only historic data to shape predictions and planning as they do not take account of societal shifts and the impact of new technologies. As well, he underscores the importance of cultural intelligence and the garnering of multiple perspectives:
If we want to say something meaningful about another culture, we have to let go - just a little bit – of the biases and assumptions that form the scaffolding of our own culture. When we commit to losing a part of ourselves, we gain something …. In exchange we gain insight.
Madsbjerg posits that the recent focus on big data has falsely created a sense that the world is ‘knowable.’ He proposes that the process of Sense-making can help us filter what data we collect and in which context, as well as the importance of the interpretation of data into useful, richly textured views of the world.
Big data does not solve the problem that has obsessed statisticians and scientist for centuries: the problem of insight, of inferring what is going on, and figuring out how we might intervene to change a system for the better.”
At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Sloan School of Management Sense-making is considered one of the four capabilities of leadership, along with relating, visioning and inventing. MIT research has revealed that sense-making is very strongly correlated with leadership effectiveness and that students often point to the acquisition of this concept and skill as extremely valuable. As Sense-making is an activity that helps us understand the complexity of our environment as a moment in time that “is comprehended explicitly in words and that serves as a springboard into action”. Ancona suggests that sense-making’s requirement to articulate the unknown is, in fact, the only way to know how well you really comprehend it. Sense-making is most crucial at those moments when life becomes unclear and bewildering – when sales suddenly drop, when projects surprisingly flounder despite superior management, when we move into extremely rapid change.
This overview of Sense-making is only that – a short overview. Much research has informed this discussion over the past 50 years, and, if you desire, there are many excellent sources, listed X, for further review. The purpose of this essay, however, is to position Sense-making as a vital competency for LEx leaders – and LEx leadership - beyond the halls of the academy, so, let’s take a closer look at what the process of Sense-making entails.
Sense-making: BPA – The Three Competencies
The process or capability of Sense-making can be described as three concurrent competencies – not steps – that organize Weick’s (et al) properties outlined above. Again, all competencies are occurring simultaneously, as an interactive process. However, in order to think through this process, it is simpler to organize it into separate categories or competencies, as a framework to manage the process.
As we engage with the world our interactions are shaped by who we are in that moment – why do some people love an event, while others detest it? Why do eyewitnesses hold different observations of the same event? How we perceive and understand events is shaped by how we define who we are – how we locate ourselves. Each of us is an arrangement of conscious and unconscious biases that influence our understandings and actions. Sense-making underscores the importance of deep self-knowledge and awareness, to understand how our backgrounds and lived experiences shape our perceptions and behaviour.
Thus, self-mastery includes a strong comprehension of identity - who we are (gender, age, education, current religious and political beliefs, etc.) where we come from (class, culture, religious background, family traditions, structure and history), and our lived experience (personal experiences with power, discrimination, violence etc.). This identity is shaped through our interactions with the world and other people.
“Identities are constituted out of the process of interaction. To shift among interactions is to shift among definitions of self. Thus the sense-maker is him or herself an ongoing puzzle, undergoing continual redefinition, coincident with presenting some self to others, and trying to decide which self is appropriate. Depending on who I am, my definition of “what is out there” will also change. Whenever I define self, I define ‘it’, but to define it is also to define self. …. the direction of causality flows just as often from the situation to a definition of self as it does the other way. And this is why the establishment and maintenance of identity is a core preoccupation in sense-making.”
This emphasis on identity, and the idea that sense-making is self-referential is key. It suggests that the self, rather than only the external situation or environment, is in need of exploration and interpretation. Organizational behavior and management researchers have extended this concept to organizations of individuals. Organizations also hold unspoken premises of process, traditions, personnel selection criteria and communication channels. Thus, the work of self-awareness extends beyond the individual to the context.
This work of reflection is by definition retrospective – it looks at past events and responses to those events for patterns and causal relationships. Yet, how we ‘see’ the past is influenced by where we are now – are we viewing the past through the lens of success or failure? Of leader or team member? An experiment from the mid 70’s demonstrates this effect. A group of students were randomly assigned to group activities that involved the assessment of an organization’s annual report. After completing the assignment, the individual groups were first told (randomly) how accurate and successful their analysis had been. They were then asked to reflect back on the group dynamics and process. Groups labelled highly successful described their team’s process as such. Groups labelled unsuccessful defined their process’s weaknesses and challenges.
This discussion underscores the value of the traditional 360 feedback process used in performance reviews and corporations (and that could be replicated in our personal lives, in a more informal way). Asking multiple individuals from different spheres of influence how you are perceived is crucial for success, yet often a rude awakening to one’s carefully constructed self-concept. This is the work of Being – developing the central understanding of how one looks out into the world to interpret it.
In the last section we discussed what we bring to exploring the world around us – what information we privilege and what we dismiss and why. Sense-making perceives everything in relationship to everything else. We now move to an exploration of sense-making as it looks outward and works to make sense of ambiguous situations. If “creative leadership is the making of shared sense out of complexity and chaos and the crafting of meaningful action,” then the work of sense-making includes sifting through input, garnering multiple perspectives, pattern identification, and data analysis. Sense-making is noticing and labeling or categorizing data to inform a story that is useful in moving to action.
As stated previously, we are increasingly operating in a world of overwhelming amounts of data and constant change. How does one develop a story sufficiently stable to provide a foundation for decision-making and action? Madsberg’s 2017 book argues that this chaos is responsible for society’s overwhelming shift to reliance on big data – a search for security and answers in the ‘truth’ of numbers. Yet, he argues, the patterns and trends that big data can uncover never answer the question why, crucial to shaping decision-making. In the military, sense-making is used to develop and leverage what it calls real-time “situational, or 360-degree, awareness”.
Building on self-awareness as the influential center of the circle, situational awareness is a conscious and ongoing effort to pay attention to environmental events and elements, while working to interpret their meaning and impact on future states and decisions.
In some situations, individuals build their own situational awareness. However, in many dynamic situations, no single individual can acquire the varied and often rapidly expanding information needed for success. Individuals must work together to collect, analyze, synthesize and disseminate information throughout the process. This concept of ‘interwoven’ situational awareness consisting of individual, intra-group and intergroup shared understanding of the situation. While immersed in data and details, Leedom underscores the importance of the view from 30,000 feet – the ability to be in the data, while simultaneously accounting for how reliable your situational awareness is likely to be. He argues our ability to build situational awareness is both belief driven (increasing our understanding to what we already know) and action driven (creating meaning to justify actions).
Weick describes sense-making as building on and incorporating extracted cues that we take from our world through our senses and perceptions. We process these cues through our experience and world views through speaking and writing. In doing so, we reify and reinforce cues and their meaning, and add to our repertoire of retrospective experience. This description describes the process captured in what is perhaps Weick’s most famous quote: “How can I know what I think until I see what I say?”
The proven benefits of diversity in discovery, question shaping, and decision making is made possible by leveraging multiple points of view, increased availability of knowledge and skills, and constructive conflict. The authors argue the benefits of diversity are as true in our personal lives, political beliefs and world understandings, as it is in group efforts.
Perceiving is a phase in which we can become entrenched, always hoping for that one new piece of information that will clarify the path forward. This rarely occurs however, and the impact of not acting is often as perilous as a ‘wrong’ choice. Thus, we proceed to Acting.
Acting (or how one seeks to influence and/or engages with one’s perceived environment) despite uncertainty requires finding ways to move through it, in fact embracing ambiguity. Weick states that we must be driven by plausibility – forming credible decisions aligned with our current ‘story’ and situational awareness - and not accuracy. This does not suggest leaders make ill-considered judgements, but rather emphasizes the inability to know all, and the importance of avoiding significant delays, as acting in itself provides additional and valuable information. The ability to act despite uncertainty relies on the confidence derived from the existence of deep, articulated values, and a well-defined vision and concept of success.
Thus, moving to action, or making a decision, is not about finding a single truth or ‘getting it right,’ but rather a “continued redrafting of an emerging story so it becomes ever more comprehensible, incorporates more data and is more resilient in the face of criticism” and testing.
Action is simply another piece of the ongoing learning process in Sense-making. Taking action immediately generates new data – and generates new opportunities for dialogue, and negotiation that enriches the sense of what’s going on. Actions let us further assess causal beliefs - that lead to new actions - that test new understandings.
Action, then, is part of the ongoing, iterative learning of sense-making. Action also shapes our world, and hence, again, our reinterpretation of it. There is no cause and effect – they are the same thing.
A leader’s role is both that of Sense-making, and perhaps most importantly - Sense-giving - particularly during times of strategic change and innovation. Sense-making is not however, simply a tool for business, for the military, or for machine learning researchers. Sense-making is the key competency for the everyday.
As stated in the introduction, we are born to make sense of our world, but great leadership – even ‘simply’ the task of living one’s life - requires that we do so in a conscious and mindful way and resist the urge to simply coast on how things have been done in the past, or to focus solely on personal or organizational gain.
Sense-making is an imperative to take the LEx Tenets to action. As members of LEx we believe a new form of leadership is required for the future – indeed the very definition of what it means to be a leader must be reconsidered. We share a set values, outlined in the LEx vision and charter, around personal mastery, equality, inclusion, environmental and cultural consciousness and, in an age of abundance, the ability to meet both personal and common good definitions of success simultaneously. These deep values and clear vision provide each of us the necessary foundation to make our efforts come to life in uncertain times by adopting the Be, Perceive and Act competencies - BPA.
SENSEMAKING AND THE IMPLICATIONS FOR LEx LEADERSHIP
“We empower ourselves as the foundation of our community. We are committed to practicing personal mastery with self-awareness, open mindedness, and generosity.” LEx Core Value #5
As noted at the outset, we are all born autonomous and sovereign, it follows that to be sovereign is to be self-aware as defined above – not in a linear, episodic fashion – but all the time and in each moment. Indeed, it can be argued that self-awareness is the precondition to both autonomy and sovereignty, and that to ignore that reality is to be neither autonomous nor sovereign.
And as an organism, it is no surprise that the things that we create around us are organisms too that share the common pursuit of autonomy and sovereignty – our families, villages, towns, cities, nations, schools, companies, professions, ideologies, religions, even and especially our one hyper-connected earth. The incumbent responsibility to make sense is an equal and common responsibility to all constructs of human making, starting with each of us at birth.
We are each of us in this moment at the centre of our known universe, with an infinite number of concentric circles around us representing all of the constructs that we engage with – directly and indirectly (and of course, they with each other). If each employs the BPA competencies to orient and conduct itself in the world, it follows that far more common – and usefully common - impressions of the truth will emerge as the basis for consequent collaborative action.
For example, it is difficult if not impossible to imagine that any level of orthodoxy could survive the honest application of BPA. To undertake naïve, open-minded reflection of one’s origin story – exploring the pain that almost always defines the boundaries of what we are prepared to perceive and accept as our truth – and then to likewise work to perceive the origin stories of those with whom we are interacting as the pre-condition to acting, by definition challenges orthodoxy to its core.
Moreover, in a world increasingly riven by tribalism, and yet not bereft of intelligence, it’s hard to argue against competencies that are by definition as secular and agnostic – and therefore bias mitigated - as it is possible to get. Does the challenger argue against trying to understand his origin story as the precondition for understanding your joint story? It would appear to be a reasonably unreasonable assertion.
Accordingly, we argue that the BPA competencies, developed within the narrow halls of academic organizational theory offer the potential of a new and existentially needed lingua franca for human development and social evolution – that is sense-making as our 6th sense.
It is a powerful toolset precisely because it is not prescriptive. It is not a one-size-fits-all doctrine that always provides a ‘red’ or ‘blue’ answer for a rainbow of scenarios, but rather is a way for you/me/we to author and target a thoughtful outcome based on a deliberative, action-oriented thought process that is agnostic and secular. I have no idea what your ‘answer’ might be when you employ sense-making, but I will have a profoundly greater expectation that it will at least be extraordinarily well thought through. And it will be YOUR answer.
It is for Leaders Expedition to be the exemplar for the embrace and practice of BPA – from the recruitment of our members, to the conduct of our Local and GlobalCircles, to the inductees we select for the LEx Museum of Leadership and the programs we provide through LEx Academe.
It is no accident that like the concentric circles we refer to above that constitutes our respective realities, LEx is likewise an organism – or perhaps more helpfully – an eco-system, comprised purposefully of an infinite number of circles. Each is intended to be the loci of an iterative learning process employing the BPA competencies, that in the aggregate will be the scaffolding of a diverse yet cohesive and thus impactful community of existent and aspiring leaders – powerful enough to start transforming the way leaders lead by 2029.
It is a happy accident that the three competencies align almost perfectly with the three processes that are the pre-condition for Transformation – that is Connection, Empowerment and Mobilization.
The act of Connection is the making of our community – the identification and recruitment of people driven by a foundational belief in our value system and our commitment to transform global leadership systemically by 2029. As is true of any social organism, this in the aggregate represents an evolving persona, with to-be-defined common demographics and psycho-demographics. As such, this persona, as with any other, should be the subject of sense-making assessment – applying the real-time reflection of Being, answering the elementals questions of who are we, where do we come from as a precondition for the process of Percieving.
In turn, each sub-circle within LEx, from Local to GlobalCircles likewise should constantly subject itself to the all-the-time, always-on awareness of Being.
Of course, the point to the making of the community – including the scaffolding of the LEx HUB – is to provide the context for community members to work to elevate and Empower each other in their life pursuits. This core practice of peer-support as the precondition for Mobilization (or Action), requires the constant application of the Perceiving competency. It is hard to imagine how a LocalCircle could elect to adopt the support of a member as their Project, without going through a substantive due diligence exercise, which to be effective, should employ the Perceiving competency.
Finally, to achieve the audacious impact goals we seek, how we Act – as individuals, and through the great many circles of our eco-system – will be defined by the process of Mobilization, that is the harnessing/leveraging of said eco-system in the pursuit of the making of a world consistent with our Tenets. And as noted, given that Action is not the last of a series of steps, but rather the centre of an iterative, multi-dimensional sense-making process, Acting – or Mobilization – informs, and is informed by the competencies of Being and Perceiving.
So, BPA should not be viewed as another of the great many (limitless in fact) leadership development/coaching modalities, but rather as a life competency that we intuitively leverage to make better use of all of the tools that are available to us. In each moment and all the time, BPA should become part of our psycho-social DNA – at the root of LEx culture.
The practice of Sense-making should not be an act of remediation – that is the unlearning of unhelpful traits in adulthood (or put another way, behavior modification) – but rather a way of being that ultimately is learned in childhood. If the sussing out of a new definition of leadership is a sense-making exercise, then how the child susses out them self is likewise so and will almost certainly confirm that leadership is not a title, but like sense-making is a competency to be learned and nurtured. We all have the possibility of leadership within us. It is our task to liberate that possibility.
This essay has sought to introduce the reader to the fact of sense-making and to review the essentials of academic study to present a working (and workable) distillation of the sense making narrative – the competencies of Being, Perceiving and Acting. The authors believe that sense-making - as BPA – may well prove to be the lubricant between our Tenets and the countless acts of collaboration that will be required to change the way leaders lead, and thus make a better world.
The brevity of this paper means that this suggestion is the beginning of a never-ending process, itself by definition a sense-making one. As LEx does not have ‘the’ answer for leadership, neither do the authors pretend to know how to apply BPA to the many constituencies that exist within our community of communities. That is the challenge – but far more importantly the opportunity – we present to the LEx community.
There has never been a greater need for purposeful sense-making and its most impactful consequence – sense giving. To those that consider themselves leaders, and to those that aspire to be leaders, it is the sense of their making that they share with those who follow them that will determine not just their success, but perhaps even the fate of the world.
 China's 'social credit' system bans millions from travelling: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/2018/03/24
 Orban Campaigns on Fear, With Hungary’s Democracy at Stake: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/07
 Yuval Noah Harari, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow (Signal Books, 2016), p68-69
 (McNamara, 2011)
 (Ancona, 2012, p 3)
 Karl Weick, Sensemaking In Organizations (Sage Publications, 1995) p17
 (Jaworski, Scharmer, 2000, in Ancona, 2012. p5).
 (Leedom, 2001)
 (Klein, Moon and Hoffman, 2006)
 (Rutledge, 2009)
 Christian Madsbjerg, Sensemaking: The Power of the Humanities in the Age of the Algorithm (Hachette Books, 2017) p5
 Madsbjerg, Sensemaking: The Power of the Humanities in the Age of the Algorithm, p23
 (Hartford, 2014, in Madsbjerg, 2017, p 30).
 (Ancona, Malone, Orlikowski & Senge, 2007)
 (Ancona, 2012)
 (Weick, Sutcliff, Obstfeld, 2005, 409)
 (Weick, 1995, p18)
 (Gioia & Chittipedi, 1991, 435).
 (Wieck, 1995, p20).
 (ibid, p23).
 (Straw, 1975, in Weick 1995, p29)
 (Madsbjerg, 2107, p11)
 (Drath &Palus, 2005, p12)
 (Weick, Sutcliffe, Obstfeld, 02005, p411)
 (Leedom 2001, p7)
 (Sonnenwalk and Pierce, 2000, p 461).
 Leedom (2001, p7)
 (weick 1995, p18).
 (Shachaf, 2008, p9).
 (IBM, 2010, p32).
 (Weick, Sutcliff, Obstfeld, p415)
 (Sutcliffe, 2000, p415)
 (Bartunek, Krim, Necochea & Humphries, 1999; Gioia & Chhittipeddi, 1991)