Solving complex problems with sense-making

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view. Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around it"  1

Sense-making is a new way to think about how to research complex problems. It does that by focussing on how people ‘make sense of’ concepts, communications and marketing offers of all kinds.

A drive to make sense

The most important point about sense-making is that people seem to have a sense-making drive. We instinctively want things to make sense, and can make that happen by ignoring facts and features which do not fit with our original expectations.

When people  see a concept or product for the first time, we do not do so with a 'blank state'. Instead we bring all sorts of experiences and expectations to it which influence our reaction. We then focus on certain cues in the environment - which could be words, pictures, sensory qualities, or symbols of some kind - and automatically amplify the importance of some of them. Then we put all that together so it ‘makes sense’.  

Our job as researchers to find out whether it made sense in a way that maximises opportunities for the brand, product or service, and if not, the reason for that so they can be fixed.

The Framework

We are very committed to the idea that great research is built on thinking frameworks and models, which is why we have built a 'sensemaking model.  It helps us understand problems like these:

  • Discovering a new product or service and trying to figure out where it would fit in our world
  • Visiting a store or website for the first time and trying to make sense of what is on offer
  • Using something like a registration process and trying to figure out what to do next
  • Trying to make sense of the instructions for an unfamiliar service or device

 When is sense-making useful in research?

Sense-making is useful for clients and researchers who are interested in how people make sense of:

  • Communications
  • Concepts
  • Products, and
  • Service experiences.

 Sense-making comes into its own for complex and difficult problems.

It draws on the same social science as Behavioural Economics, but instead of the negativity and labeling which are often (sadly) a feature of Behavioural Economics when used in research. sensemaking is positive and constructive.

1. To kill a MockingBird

If you would like us to help you use sense-making for greater insight contact Sue. 

Tags: Behavioural Economics, Sensory research, Making sense, Senses, sense-making, Thinking frameworks

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