A few weeks ago, we decamped to rural Minnesota to spend time with my inlaws after our holiday plans were abruptly changed by omicron. I probably hold an unpopular view, but I love Minnesota in the winter. The snow is deep, the wood fires burn hot and in January, the ice on all 10,000+ lakes is thick enough for ice fishing. And I can't think of anything more romantic than ice fishing—sitting in a handmade ice house, by the light of the silvery moon, listening to the ice crack and expand below you, while drinking hot toddies from a thermos. But I'm a novice at ice fishing and so my father-in-law generously set up a radar to help me understand where under the foot+ of ice the fish were actually located.

The radar is a funny thing, you drop a line down the hole you've carved out of the ice and It picks up your line and also the fish that are swarming it. You have to take your eyes off the hole in the ice and focus on the screen of the radar machine to understand what is happening out of sight. You become focused on flashing colored lines and suddenly feel you're playing a video game instead of engaging in a miraculous wonder of nature. I found it almost completely impossible to intuit the depth of my line or the nuance of the fishes' initial nibble, both key factors in making a catch. Instead, I disconnected from that sensemaking and got caught up in trying to get flashing colored lines aligned on a screen. I had lost the purpose, I had undermined my own innate capabilities for sensemaking, and I ultimately became so disillusioned with this "modern way" that I shut it off, pulled it out, and went back to basics which became much more fun, engaging, and mind-expanding (much to my father-in-law's dismay!). 


Karl Weick is an organizational theorist most widely known for his introduction of the concept of sensemaking. Sensemaking means "to make sense of the world around us". It is often considered a key leadership trait not only for things like visioning or understanding our market but also for understanding how our teams are relating. In the Harvard Business Review, the authors explain, 

Weick likened the process of sensemaking to cartography. What we map depends on where we look, what factors we choose to focus on, and what aspects of the terrain we decide to represent. Since these choices will shape the kind of map we produce, there is no perfect map of a terrain. Therefore, making sense is more than an act of analysis; it’s an act of creativity. The key for leaders is to determine what would be a useful map given their particular goals and then to draw one that adequately represents the situation the organization is facing at that moment.


The key phrase in that is to determine what would be a useful map given their particular goals. Most times, when we're building that map, we forget to reflect on what our particular goals are and how they should inform the map we build and the tools we use to track our accuracy of that map. I have been thinking of this most often in the space of Human Resouces and Team Building.

Nowadays companies have so many options for "streamlining" their HR process. You have platforms like 15Five or Lattice that will "bring out the best in your people". But what happens when we fail to reflect on our own goals and override our own unique culture to be more "efficient" and "streamlined".

When I think back to my own ice fishing experience, the goal wasn't to catch as many fish as possible by using the "most efficient technology available to me". It was to reconnect with my own purpose for being in nature, to tap into an intuition that often doesn't express itself when I'm in NYC, and to deliberately step into an environment that will force me to release control -- a rare opportunity in our "optimized" world.

And I believe the same questions should be asked about why we choose to use the tools we do especially when they relate to the human connection within our company. What map is necessary to accomplish our goals and is this platform creating the best experience to make that a reality?

Everyone's culture is unique. Be aware of your choices. Remember that 
making sense is more than an act of analysis; it’s an act of creativity. What is the human experience you're contributing to in your own Human Resources? 


This March we'll be reading Consumed by Aja Barber. We will meet on Tuesday, March 22nd at 7pmEST via Zoom. This is a free event, please email me to register.


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