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Sensemaking serie: On dearth in an age of abundance: what are you hungry for?

*By Denise Eler

Answer quickly: what is today’s scarcest resource?

The most frequent answer: time.

Wrooong answer.

The same time that existed in the Middle Ages exists now. The same 24 hours that Netflix and Magazine Luíza has, your company has. So how come some company’s (and some people’s) time seems to yield more?

Most frequent answer: good time management.

Well, I have been working for twenty years with organizations from a wide range of sectors, from multinationals to start-ups, cooperatives and NGOs, government and academia, and I can say that “time management” courses are at the top of the list for HRs. Just Google “time management” and you’ll find lists to turn you into an excellent “time manager”: start early, don’t procrastinate, schedule tasks, define deadlines, prioritize, delegate tasks, focus, learn to say no and. . . avoid stress (really?).

There’s nothing wrong with following this advice, but the fact is that you may have done all of this and not seen the slightest difference in your productivity. At the end of the day, the one thing that really matters is, what value did your delivery generate for the business? It doesn’t matter if you and your team delivered something in record time (and without stress). Three things matter:

1-Solving the right problem

2-Solving the problem right

3-Delivering constant value

For each of these premises, we can make a question:

Solving the right problem: What (really) is the “problem”?

Solving the problem right: What is the best way to “solve” the “problem”?

Delivering constant value: What is value, in this case? (Presupposing knowledge of “who” should give value; since value does not reside in things, but is a perception about them).

Ironically, answering these three questions “consumes” time. Reflecting consumes time, but it reduces the risks of worthless deliveries. And worthless deliveries undermine people’s self-esteem. What are we running so hard for, after all?

This is precisely the scenario I have encountered and is something that justifies the statistics that say that only 13% of employees are engaged in their jobs. Isn’t that ironic? We know that soon, probably sooner than we would like, all repetitive work will be done by machines. And yet, almost 90% of people surveyed are working automatically. It’s just “clocking in”. Leadership and followers.

Without time (and willingness) to think, there is no innovation

Without time (and willingness) to think, there is no innovation, because a tense mind delivers known answers. It seems that the more we run against time, the more time escapes us, because companies that do not innovate are short-lived. And so, “haste” is confused with “agility”, “responsiveness” with “evolution” and “reactivity” with “reflection”.

Denise Eler photo. She is is one of the country's leading exeprts in Sensemaking and Design Thinking. 

Denise Eler is one of the country’s leading exeprts in Sensemaking and Design Thinking.

All this makes me think that the great scarcity in organizations is not time, but meaning. It is no accident that suddenly to have a “purpose” has become a business imperative. A company’s purpose serves to guide the joint efforts of employees, to generate motivation and a sense of belonging. But having a purpose is not enough.

It is in routine that I have noticed, leadership and followers, immersed in activities devoid of meaning: meetings that could have been an email, live broadcasts that could have been a tweet, presentations that do not enable decision-making, reports that do not expand understanding of a topic, graphics that demand too much time to be understood, and zombie projects that no longer have any relevance to the business but insist on consuming brains.

How can we change this? We need to question the real meaning behind each of these activities. Stop being collectors/producers of information to become enablers of intelligence. In the next three articles, I invite you to learn about Sensemaking techniques – the process of creating meaning in decision-making.

Denise Eler is one of the country’s leading exeprts in Sensemaking and Design Thinking. 



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