The Moment of Clarity: A book review by Bob Morris

Posted on: May 7th, 2014 by bobmorris

Moment of ClarityThe Moment of Clarity: Using the Human Sciences to Solve Your Toughest Business Problems
Christian Madsbjerg and Mikkel Rasmussen
Harvard Business Review Press (2014)

How and why the human sciences address “the reality of people’s lives at their most complex…and most interesting”

The material in this book addresses a very important challenge: Your business is headed off course. What do you do? According to Christian Madsbjerg and Mikkel Rasmussen, the best strategy is to use the human sciences — what they characterize as “sensemaking” — to gain a better understanding of human nature in order to solve even the most difficult business problems. Many (most?) business leaders seem to believe that “human behavior in business is predicated on a simple model that sees people as predictable, rational decision makers able to optimize a set of predefined preferences…At the core of modern business culture lies the assumption that human beings are best understood by analyzing their brains and the thinking processes that go on there.” Madsbjerg and Rasmussen wrote this book in order to explain “better ways of understanding people.”

Many of the problems with gaining such as understanding, with solving the problem of how best to solve problems, are explained by what they characterize as a “linear mindset,” one that is committed maximizing growth and profit out of a business through rational and logical analysis. This mindset works extraordinarily well, for example, when the business challenge demands an increase in the productivity of a system. “But what happens when the challenge involves human behavior?” Obviously, some problems are best solved by a linear mindset but others can only be solved — or at least are solved best — by “sensemaking”: using human sciences to investigate and understand “the invisible background, the layered nuance behind what we perceive…The sensemaking method is inspired [also, guided and informed] by these softer sciences: disciplines like anthropology, sociology, and existential psychology as well as art, philosophy, and literature.” I agree with them that how we experience the world in human terms may be as important as, or more important than, objective facts about the physical world.

These are among the dozens of business subjects and issues of special interest and value to me, also listed to indicate the scope of Madsbjerg and Rasmussen’s coverage.

o Making the Invisible Visible (Pages 10-12)
o Sensemaking: Finding Our Way Through a Fog (14-17)
o The Default-Thinking Method of Problem Solving (21-25)
o How Default Thinking Works (26-46)
o The Think-Outside-the-Box Method of Problem Solving (49-57)
o How Thinking Outside the Box Works (57-65)
o The Big-Data Solution (71-72)
o Human-Science Theories and Tools (87-91)
o Abductive Reasoning (102-105)
o Solving LEGO’s problems (107-122)
o “What Problem Are We Choosing to Solve?” (125-128)
o Mini-Case Study: Samsung (155-158)
o Two Leadership Roles: Decision-Makers and Sensemakers (160-164)
o The Three Skills of a Sensemaking Leader (164-165)
o Leading with Perspective (169-176)

As I worked my way through the material the first time I read this book, I was again reminded of a passage in Judgment: How Winning Leaders Make Great Calls, co-authored by Noel Tichy and Warren Bennis: They suggest that what really matters “is not how many calls a leader gets right, or even what percentage of calls a leader gets right. Rather it is important how many of the important ones he or she gets right.” They go on to suggest that effective leaders “not only make better calls, but they are able to discern the really important ones and get a higher percentage of them right. They are better at a whole process that runs from seeing the need for a call, to framing issues, to figuring out what is critical, to mobilizing and energizing the troops.”

Presumably Christian Madsbjerg and Mikkel Rasmussen agree about the importance of getting the most important decisions right, either with the linear method or with the default (sensemaking) method. All of the information, insights, and counsel they provide can help their readers to accelerate progress during their own journey of discovery, both of how their customers actually experience life but also of those special “moments of understanding that change everything”: moments of clarity.

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