Navigating a Broken Information Ecology Through Better Sensemaking

“Don’t do the lazy thing of just defecting to the sensemaking that someone else—that you hold as legitimate authority—gave you, but really engage earnestly with all of the perspectives so that you can to try to understand what makes sense … I don’t think there are any good chances for the world unless a lot of people start doing that.” ~ Daniel Schmachtenberger

As a follow up to my latest post about the broken information ecosystem as it relates to COVID-19, I have since been doing a lot of thinking about the flip side of this problem, which is the ability for each of us to better make sense of the world around us (or at least, to better make sense of new information that is presented to us before arriving at hard and fast conclusions). You simply cannot address one side of the equation without mentioning the other.

In my post “Early Thoughts on the ‘Infodemic’ Brought to Light by COVID-19 + Resources for Staying Better Informed,” I talked about the many ways that false or bad information is circulating around on the web, as well as the various efforts that are being deployed to help stop its spread. This post was really a situational analysis of the digital landscape, based on my own background in marketing, with the larger purpose of helping individuals to better spot misleading or inaccurate information. But, it didn’t address:

  • The problem of what we do with good information even if we know where to find it.
  • The assumption that most people seeking out information are acting in good faith to understand both sides of an issue.
  • The idea that people may be interpreting information they come across incorrectly based on common biases or critical thinking fallacies.
  • The fact that some people don’t want to hear information that runs against their established viewpoints.

This, of course, is where the territory becomes a little bit sticky … but it is something we must confront. If consumers of information aren’t willing to take personal responsibility for assessing the quality of the information they consume, or to commit to being diligent in their sensemaking, then where does this leave us? For one, it leaves us with a lot of missed opportunities to engage in constructive conversation.

Rebel Wisdom’s “War on Sensemaking” Video Series

Thankfully, I recently came across a video series entitled “The War on Sensemaking” via Rebel Wisdom (a platform aimed at making highly complex ideas accessible to as many people as possible), which above-and-beyond directly addressed many of the questions I’ve been pondering. As such, I was eager to share it here.

In this “War on Sensemaking” series, former BBC journalist David Fuller interviews evolutionary philosopher Daniel Schmachtenberger. The main questions explored in this first video include:

  1. What can we trust?
  2. Why is the ‘information ecology’ so damaged, and
  3. What would it take to make it healthy?

For me, this discussion was refreshing, and many of the key points explored relate directly to marketing (i.e. the concept of narrative warfare, the competition for ideas, which ideas are the most marketable vs. not marketable at all, how to navigate the information ecosystem, etc.) Disclaimer: these conversations run philosophically deep, and there really isn’t a CliffsNotes version. But, I think it will be well worth your time.

The War on Sensemaking Video #1 with Daniel Schmachtenberger

“We’re making more and more consequential choices with worse and worse sensemaking to inform those choices, which is kind of running increasingly fast through the woods, increasingly blind.” ~ Daniel Schmachtenberger

After watching this video, I think it will become clear that we all need to be thinking and talking more about “how to develop human capacities for dealing with uncertainty, for managing complexity, for holding different perspectives, for improvising in the moment, and for discerning reality.” As I see it, these will be among the required skills for successful navigation of the times ahead.

So how do we do this? At approximately 10 minutes into the video, Schmachtenberger paints a picture for what it means to become a better sensemaker when he says:

“If we actually want to empower people, I don’t want them to defer their senesemaking to me. But I also don’t want them to do lazy shitty sensemaking. Or defer it to anyone else. Which means I want them to grow the quality of their own sensemaking, which means to grow the depth of their care (anti-nihilism), to grow the depth of their earnestness, their own self-reflexiveness to pay attention to their biases, and where their sloppiness in thinking is, their own skills and capacity. I want them to grow their attention span, both the clarity of their logic and the clarity of their intuition, and notice when something’s coming from intuition or logic, and how to relate those, all of those things. And that’s actually what increasing sovereignty means.”

In other words, we need to be responsible for developing our own capacities to become better sensemakers and not rely on others to do the hard work for us. The moment we give that power away, we enter a world of distortion, off-ramps, confusion, and ultimately bad logic (logic that provides anything but an original, thoughtful, or empowered perspective). 

For those who are interested in exploring more content along these lines, please visit the Rebel Wisdom page.

About Rebel Wisdom’s Founder, David Fuller:

David Fuller is a multi-skilled journalist and filmmaker – having worked for the UK’s top news programme Channel 4 News for ten years as reporter, producer and director. He was the first mainstream TV journalist to cover the renaissance of psychedelic science back in 2008, and has consistently focused on the revolutionary ideas and technologies on the fringes of the culture, and attempted to shift the cultural conversation.

He began making documentaries for the BBC and Channel 4 in 2011, primarily for the Emmy award-winning series ‘Unreported World’. His documentary ‘The Invisible People’, about the plight of disabled Syrian refugees in Lebanon was shortlisted for the “Royal Television Society awards in 2015.

This experience, combined with his intense interest in the evolution of ideas and philosophy (he studied philosophy at University in Manchester) – led to the birth of Rebel Wisdom – as a platform to make highly complex ideas accessible to as many people as possible.

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