Christian Madsbjerg

Sensemaking is practical wisdom grounded in the humanities. We can think of sense making as the exact opposite of algorithmic thinking: it is entirely situated in the concrete, while algorithmic thinking exists in a no-man’s land of information stripped of its specificity. Algorithmic thinking can go wide — processing trillions of terabytes of data per second — but only sense making can go deep.

4 thoughts on “Christian Madsbjerg

  1. shinichi Post author

    Sensemaking: The Power of the Humanities in the Age of the Algorithm

    by Christian Madsbjerg

    1. Making Sense of the World (p. 6)


    Based on his work at some of the world’s largest companies, including Ford, Adidas, and Chanel, Christian Madsbjerg’s Sensemaking is a provocative stand against the tyranny of big data and scientism, and an urgent, overdue defense of human intelligence.

    Humans have become subservient to algorithms. Every day brings a new Moneyball fix–a math whiz who will crack open an industry with clean fact-based analysis rather than human intuition and experience. As a result, we have stopped thinking. Machines do it for us.

    Christian Madsbjerg argues that our fixation with data often masks stunning deficiencies, and the risks for humankind are enormous. Blind devotion to number crunching imperils our businesses, our educations, our governments, and our life savings. Too many companies have lost touch with the humanity of their customers, while marginalizing workers with liberal arts-based skills. Contrary to popular thinking, Madsbjerg shows how many of today’s biggest success stories stem not from “quant” thinking but from deep, nuanced engagement with culture, language, and history. He calls his method sensemaking.

    In this landmark book, Madsbjerg lays out five principles for how business leaders, entrepreneurs, and individuals can use it to solve their thorniest problems. He profiles companies using sensemaking to connect with new customers, and takes readers inside the work process of sensemaking “connoisseurs” like investor George Soros, architect Bjarke Ingels, and others.

    Both practical and philosophical, Sensemaking is a powerful rejoinder to corporate groupthink and an indispensable resource for leaders and innovators who want to stand out from the pack.

  2. shinichi Post author

    Introduction (p. xiv – p. xvi)

    Too many of the top cadre of leadership I have met are isolated in their worldview. They have lost touch with the humanity of their customers and their constituents and, as a result, they mistake numerical representations and models for real life. Their days are sliced and diced into tiny segments, so they feel they don’t have time to wander around in the mess of real-world data. Instead, they jump into a problem-solving process and a conclusion without understanding the actual question.

    As a result of all this, they tend to hire engineering- or MBA-trained junior executives to be their foot soldiers in the data trenches. Their fixation with hard data masks stunning deficiencies, and many such lower-level managers will hit a glass ceiling in today’s business world. They are reductionists without the sensitivity to recognize the most exciting and essential patterns. These are managers who did everything “right”: they hacked the system and aced the tests; they went to the best schools and got all the good grades; they spent their entire education training their minds to reduce the problems and then to solve them. And today, as a result, they simply don’t have the intellectual sophistication required to move into the upper echelons of leadership.

    It’s not always easy to prove this point — that training in the humanities and the social sciences is just as important, if not more important, than STEM to a successful career — with hard data. But allow me to put this data question in context. In 2008, the Wall street Journal reported on a large-scale study of global compensation by the research firm PayScale Inc. The study confirms that students in a pure STEM background generally get better-paying jobs right after graduating from college. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and California Institute of Technology rant as the top two school for starting median salary—at $72,000—and then at number 3 and 6, respectively, for the best mid-career median salaries.

    But this study includes everyone who graduated from college across the whole of the United States, so median measurements both for starting salaries and for mid-career salaries favor STEM graduates. This is because the liberal arts graduates end up working in an incredibly wide range of jobs and fields across the whole of the nation. If you look at the most successful earners in the entire country—the 90th percentile mid-career and beyond — the story starts to change. MIT doesn’t show up until number 11, behind ten colleges and universities with strong liberal arts concepts. Places like Yale University and Dartmouth College show the strongest median earnings—about $300,000. Of all other engineering STEM-centered colleges, only Carnegie Mellon University even makes the list of mid-career 90th percentile salaries.

    The study reveals the same story about majors. Generally, computer engineering and chemical engineering are high-ranking majors when it comes to salary, while it is much harder to find the humanities the top 20 majors list when it comes to the higher earners mid-career. But, again, if you look at the most successful 90th percentile earners in the whole of the country, suddenly political science, philosophy, drama, and history are placed prominently, often from pure liberal arts schools like Colgate University, Bucknell University, and Union College.

    What we can take from this data is that most STEM training will get students a good income at the starting gate and a decent career. But powerful earners—the people running the show, breaking through the glass ceiling, and changing the world—tend to have liberal arts degrees. This will come as surprising news if you listen to the general rhetoric coming out of Silicon Valley, politicians, and even amongst many leaders in education today. But, if you have spent any time in a global company or one of the world’s most powerful institutions, it make sense.

  3. shinichi Post author

    3. Culture – Not Individuals (p. 61)

    Sensemaking invited us to ‘play what’s not there’: to start seeking out space in between the rules. When we really want to achieve an insight, we have to dig into the context, immerse ourselves more fully in a world. In order to do this, however, first we have to look more closely at our relationship to data — both thick [contextual] and thin [factual]. How do we ‘know’ what we know? And what type of knowledge gives us confidence to bet big on killer market hunches?

  4. shinichi Post author


    by クリスチャン・マスビアウ




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