Collective Sensemaking…

Community, Networks and Meaning

Trust is a confident relationship into the unknown…

- Rachel Botsman

In the 2017 book by Trust Fellow at Oxford University’s Said Business School, Rachel Botsman Who can you Trust? How Technology Brought Us Together and Why It Might Drive Us Apart [1] – she brings together a range of observations around the elements of Trust – which have everything to do with the nature of the Human Condition including Capability, Reliability, Benevolence and Integrity, together with highlighting how we are witnessing a monumental shift in the nature of Trust in Society – a move from Institutions to Individuals.

A return to a period of “localism”[2] – a time when we lived in small communities where individuals were known and trusted based off their behaviours – a focus on walking (what you do) instead of talking (what you say).

Over recent decades, Trust in our Institutions, Organisations and Media has collapsed as some of the core elements of our Social Contract have disintegrated.

Rachel Botsman outlines 3 core drivers behind this erosion in our faith in these Institutions.

The first is an asymmetry in moral accountability where there is a mismatch in the equity and fairness of what happens to our Institutions & their Leaders vs our Citizens & Community.

Corporate Bailouts, excessive Executive Remuneration structures , Crony Capitalism, Share Buybacks and the Privatisation of Gains & Socialisation of losses [3]are some of the examples.

A second is the twilight of the Elites and Authority.

The Administrative State [3a].

Wealth & Income Inequality[4] highlights a growing disconnect and Reality Gap[6].

A third is the effects of our increasing adoption of digital media and communication platforms.

Despite these networks providing powerful tools that dramatically reduce the costs of communication, collaboration and sharing knowledge globally, they have also been designed, engineered and architected in such a way as to maximise and optimise our “attention”.

You are now the product and the algorithms ensure that the information we see and the people we connect to are “people like us”[10] – creating a vast digital mosaic of discrete tribes that compress our perceptions of Reality and amplify our differences resulting in a polarisation of our truths & beliefs .

As outlined in an earlier article – The Collapse of Context and the Elimination of Friction[11] – this “Parallel Digital Universe ” also raises fundamental questions relating to the nature of Trust and our Collective Sensemaking .

Can digital technology platforms and solutions ( e.g. the blockchain) really provide a substitute for Trust if at its very core is the idea of our human relationships, the transcontextual and our interdependencies?

Does this digital world result in a “context collapse” – an anthropological phenomena – where ancient rituals and shared physical experiences are omitted from our Sensemaking which historically provided both personal & collective meaning?

American organisational theorist Prof. Karl Weick has made the following observation on why our Individual & Collective Sensemaking skills are critical to our survival and navigation of Reality :

“The basic idea of Sensemaking is that reality is an ongoing accomplishment that emerges from efforts to create order and make retrospective sense of what occurs” …

Simply put, without Collective Sensemaking we cannot create common narratives that simplify complexity, foster collaboration, enable cooperation and create a functioning society.

Without context, words and actions have no meaning at all …

-Gregory Bateson

Given the importance of Trust, Context and Sensemaking in navigating our World these relational and technological shifts are resulting in a wider and wider Reality Gap.

Ideology essentially arises as a result of our models of the world, heuristics,narratives and analogies moving further and further away from Reality[12].

Without Collective Sensemaking skills we are increasingly failing to perceive this Gap let alone respond and begin to close the divide – the result is more & more volatility and an increasingly surreal — kafkaesque — form of reality – the “land of the make believe”[13].

An interesting related insight can be derived from the writings of early 20th-century philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein is the Wittgenstein’s ruler – A term coined by Nassim Taleb.

Unless you have confidence in the ruler’s reliability, if you use a ruler to measure a table, you may also be using the table to measure the ruler.

In other words, the less you trust the ruler’s reliability, the more information you are getting about the ruler and the less about the table.

This absence of Collective Sensemaking lies at the heart of the increasing challenges and system imbalances we face.

The erosion in this capability has been compounded by the destruction of the Fourth Estate – the historical role an independent frank & fearless media provided in ensuring checks & balances to power.

The rise of digital social media platforms has accelerated the shift in media business models initially towards classifieds and then towards the monetisation of our “attention” where ideology, sensationalism and “click bait” journalism [14] replaces a broader collective search for ground truths.

Compounding these shifts have been Agency Capture – the Distributed Idea Suppression Complex (DISC) [15] – a term coined by US Theoretical Physicist , Podcaster and Financier – Eric Weinstein.

A world where various interest groups shape and attempt to control the public narrative.

Paul Saffo a Consulting Professor in the School of Engineering at Stanford University and a Silicon Valley based technology forecaster has made the following observation on this new digital paradigm:

“The future belongs to neither the conduit or content players, but those who control the filtering, searching and sense-making tools we will rely on to navigate through the expanses of cyberspace.”

– Paul Saffo

Despite what has unfolded to date there are positive signs of change relating to our Collective Sensemaking.

The rise of the Fifth Estate[16] where through Human Agency individual voices have emerged disintermediating these traditional institutions.

The rise and rise of podcasts, social media platforms, blogs, newsletters , and localism initiatives such as the Commons[17] — the third way.

The sharing of global knowledge and a renewal in local communities that can provide the much needed human agency and personal relationships, skin in the game, contextualisation and enablement to respond to accelerating change…


[1] — Who Can You Trust? How Technology Brought Us Together — and Why It Could Drive Us Apart —

[2] — #125 The World After Lockdown (with Helena Norberg-Hodge) — Helena Norberg-Hodge is founder and director of Local Futures. Local Futures is a non-profit organization “dedicated to the revitalization of cultural and biological diversity, and the strengthening of local communities and economies worldwide—

[3] — Epsilon Theory — This is Water —

[3a] – The Administrative State –

[4] — Pikettys Inequality in 6 Charts —

[5] — David Deutsch on the infinite reach of knowledge —

[6] — The Reality Gap —

[7] — The Peculiar Blindness of Experts —

[8] — Crossing the Adaptive Landscape —

[9] — Range —

[10] — The Digital Burnout Was Coming. The Pandemic Is Expediting It —

[11] — The collapse of context and the elimination of friction —

[12] — Capital and Ideology —

[13] — Land of the make believe —

[14] — Journalism’s ‘Fourth Estate’ Role Is Crumbling In The Internet Age —

[15] — Slipping the DISC —

[16] — Whats next for the Internet? —

[17] — Michel Bauwens on the Commons Transition —



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Richard Schutte

Innovation, Intrapreneurship, Entrepreneurship, Complexity, Leadership & Community Twitter: @complexityvoid