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Sense-Framing Sessions: The Untold Story of Sloppy Thinking
Part 1: Introduction to Sense-Framing
"Crisis, Art, Power, Technology, Discovery" - what do these concepts have in common? Depending on time and context, they can tell a story of progress, change, and creativity. But, they also pass along biases. Instead of being sources of learning, they can become errors in our thinking.
What is important to point out is that these concepts are goal-oriented frames rather than a reflection of reality. The way we interpret them defines the trajectory of our culture. If we don't find a balanced way to make sense of them, they can do more harm than good.
A point in case is Columbus, who "discovered" America in 1492. He was a source of inspiration for many, a hero. He became a symbol of freedom that shaped the American identity.
But, there is another side to the story. Columbus was a businessman, after all, who needed funding for his expeditions. He had to "discover" new resources to increase the Spanish Crown's wealth and image in return. Slavery and resource exploitation became the means to an end. In summary, he focused solely on preserving his frame on discovery, which was nothing more but a transaction.
"I discovered a great many islands, inhabited by numberless people; and of all, I have taken possession for their Highnesses by proclamation and display of the Royal Standard without opposition" (Letter from Christopher Columbus, 1493)
The story of Columbus is a great example of a broken frame. When discovery turned into a transactional business, it came with many unintended consequences: justification for slavery, exploitation of resources, destruction of ecosystems. Columbus didn't discover a new world. He confirmed a dominating worldview that encouraged the exploitation of people and nature.
Today, we can look back and see that we can interpret the events differently. When we frame history through multiple views, we include our past and don't ignore our experiences. These frames offer some structure, but not all of them do a good job. An inclusive framework requires more than diverse perspectives. We need to be mindful that a lack of balance will make room for unintended consequences. As a result, the impact on society and the planet will be more significant and lasting.
So what can we do differently to achieve more clarity? My answer is that we need to use a new Sense-Framing model. Dealing with complexity and uncertainty is not our biggest challenge. The hardest part is to make a conscious effort to connect with the world and ourselves.
"Sense-Framing is an integrated mental model of how we process information at every stage (from exposure to expression)."
I want to share three insights that are important to consider before making big decisions:
#1: Focus on the Frame instead of the Problem
Framing problems alone will create more problems in the long run. When we start with a problem in mind, our frame will try to "solve" it at the expense of compromising reality. We need diverse perspectives and means to collaborate if we want to build more inclusive social realities. And we cannot achieve this alone.
Framing aligns people, while most problems are a result of misalignment. We must be more open and engage with those who want to work with us to build a larger frame. We should aim to solve not only one matter at a time. Let's create something better together.
#2: Sensemaking is not Sense-Framing
"Sensemaking: the ability to stand one's ground while interpreting reality."
Once we have a frame, we engage in a logical process of Sensemaking. We make appropriate decisions that validate our thinking. But is this always the case? Not really. If we employ only Sensemaking to confirm our framing, we end up with a closed bubble. It is a slippery road that can lead to systems based on control. Sensemaking alone can pose challenges to building the right strategy because it might try to defy change.
To integrate diverse perspectives and change our mental models, we need to go through other stages in the process. They help us distribute the weight of our thinking to make better decisions. It happens when we acknowledge that things are more interconnected than we think.
The other stages besides Sensemaking are:
Sensegiving: the awareness of the raw information flow
We are more open to the world, and it helps us connect. Anything can be a source of meaning.
Sensebreaking: the openness to reframe one's thinking to build new perspectives
When we begin to doubt what we take for granted, we can question the status quo and, if necessary, change our minds.
Sensesharing: the drive to share who we are and what we have in common with the community
It's a feedback loop that conditions our thinking to align with the rest of the world that shares our values.
All phases are necessary to complete the process of frame building. Failing to do so narrows our vision and experience. We cannot skip any step if we truly want to invite change. It is a way to construct a more balanced and inclusive model in the future.
#3: Neglecting aspects of Sense-Framing comes with a price
Ignorance usually has a high price. If we look back at what discovery meant for Columbus, we begin to see what justified the wrongdoings of such an overlook:
The Age of Discovery paved the way for hundreds of years of Colonialism through the Eurocentric frame setting (Sensegiving)
Through the transactional view of discoveries, Columbus became famous and the Spanish Crown very wealthy (Sensemaking)
The slight changes in Eurocentrism gave rise to the mission to 'civilize' the world seeking uniformity (Sensebreaking)
For a long time, the priority was to maintain this system as valid and authentic (Sensesharing)
Now, what we see in the frame is our current worldview judging the past. But Sense-Framing doesn't stop here. Every stage is a learning experience:
The lack of perspective can cost more time and valuable resources than to build it properly in the first place.
Our narratives affect reality while our actions are just effects.
Rushing towards a problem too soon is risky. Check your worldview first to know whether or not you might have a distorted frame.
Trying to see things differently is sometimes more helpful than being right.
The shift we make through the Sense-Framing model might seem counter-intuitive at first. It isn't about integrating change to build the future. We make room for change in the future when we integrate elements from the past.
Sense-Framing is not the answer to our problems, but it's a map to exploring the concepts that tell the story of our time. We don't want to alter history or justify the past. We want to develop a sense of connection and use the full potential of diversity and deep collaboration.
At last, I can't help but ask, what is your 'discovery' frame? Is there anything you neglect in the story that will come to haunt us later?
Pause and think for a minute. We will all benefit.