Mental Frames

You’ve probably heard of mental filters somewhere along the line. They are cognitive distortions, often described in negative terms such as blaming, overgeneralizing, catastrophizing etc… I am not a psychologist, but I see things through a lens of experience, sometimes a narrowing of focus to be productive, or even sometimes a need to conform. Conformity is not as important as it used to be. Not all filters are negative but they can hold you back in times of change.

While working at Symbol Technologies many companies were working towards developing hand-held bar code scanners. The big bad boys at grocery stores moved the scanning LED’s with motors. So, the common theme became attempts to miniaturize motors so they can fit in a handheld device. Jerry Schwartz, co-founder and CEO, as the story goes, asked the development team a question. What if we don’t use a motor? What would that look like? The result was an LED mounted to a flexible piece of mylar, a metal disc and magnet that flicked on an off thereby swinging the LED as effectively as a motor. Bam! Billion dollar business.

Sometimes shifting perspective, asking a different question or exploring alternatives can lead to outstanding results

“Your beliefs become your thoughts, your thoughts become your words, your words become your actions, your actions become your habits, your habits become your values, your values become your destiny.” — Gandhi


Sensemaking not only focuses on experience but does so in a way that looks at the collective experience. So as a team looks at what needs to happen. Decision making is about defining choices, sensemaking is about giving meaning to shared experience. In sensemaking, you spend less time planning and more time acting. Learn by doing may come mind.

There are practical tools for sensemaking:

Problem detection — this is the art of looking for patterns in the change and determining if there is anything worth worrying about.

  • Connecting the dots — some situations are ill-defined and when that exists it means taking a deeper dive to understand what is really going on
  • Forming explanations — when there is a black box process or organization it is important to take the time to figure out how it really works.
  • Anticipatory thinking — work through things that can possibly go wrong and prevent potential problems
  • Projecting future states — by defining what the end state looks like preparation becomes clearer
  • Finding the levers — determine thoughts and actions that drive a situation
  • Seeing relationships — find where we are and how to exit
  • Problem identification — identify variables in a problem to define a solution strategy

Sensemaking is the ability or attempt to make sense of an ambiguous situation. More exactly, sensemaking is the process of creating situational awareness and understanding in situations of high complexity or uncertainty in order to make decisions

Contact: Changing Change HQ