A FINANCIAL TIMES BUSINESS BOOK OF THE MONTH (APRIL 2017)
Humans have become subservient to algorithms. Every day brings a new Moneyball fix - a maths 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 marginalising workers with 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.
Stating that "algorithms can do many things but they will never actually give a damn," consultant Madsbjerg has a bone to pick with American society's reliance on algorithms and big data. This trend is coming, he warns, at the cost of a devaluation of human judgement. Meanwhile, humanities departments are declining because of the greater interest in engineering and the natural sciences, based on the misleading premise that a liberal art degree dooms the graduate to a lower salary. The effect, Madsbjerg says, is to create a generation of data-focused thinkers. Madsbjerg recommends shifting reliance to "thick data," which layers spreadsheet data with ethnographic data the titular process of sense making. The directive to take a wide-angle view of problems is valid and the argument is strong, but the book overall has a paranoid, somewhat histrionic tone, railing against "scientism, or the belief that the hard sciences and abstracted data sets devoid of context big data' are the only valid means to explain all phenomena that exists in the world." Madsbjerg's premise is reasonable, but not enough to base a full book on.