The Power of the Humanities in the Age of the Algorithm

Book - 2017
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A Financial Times "Business Book of the Month"

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.
Publisher: New York :, Hachette Books,, 2017
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 9780316393249
Characteristics: xxi, 216 pages
Alternative Title: Sense making


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SPL_Melanie Sep 27, 2017

Reviewed in Stratford Gazette Sept 27, 2017. Full review under Summary.

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Sep 30, 2017

If you're interested in a human future—not an AI-driven dystopia—then this superb book is a roadmap to reinventing work, culture and the knotted problems of the ordinary difficult life you can sink your mind into. Thank you SPL for having this one on the shelves. Here's another great book to pair with SENSEMAKING => A PATTERN LANGUAGE by Christopher Alexander.

SPL_Melanie Sep 27, 2017

Reviewed in Stratford Gazette Sept 27, 2017. Full review under Summary.


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SPL_Melanie Sep 27, 2017

This thought-provoking book by the founder of ReD Associates -- a strategy consulting company based in the humanities -- was fascinating and full of great concepts.

The premise is that only those who think deeply and in context can really illuminate truth and understanding, in ways that the wide but shallow cast of algorithmic data cannot match. Understanding history and context and human nature helps us make better decisions personally and socially.

Having respect for study and knowledge and understanding will help things run better. These shouldn't be startling concepts but they seem to be in today's culture, so much so that this whole book is a strong argument for more support, culturally and financially, for the humanities in higher learning.

Madsbjerg states: “When we attempt to quantify human behaviour only as so many quarks or widgets, we erode our sensitivity to all the forms of knowledge that are not reductionist. We lose touch with the books, music, art and culture that allow us to experience ourselves in a complex social context.”

He goes on to state that people's sense of the meaning of the data they are seeing is far more important that homogeneous data and input. The arts and humanities allow us to experience the differences between people across years and cultures; they allow us to inhabit another person's world and understand them better. Focusing only on hard data erases these differences, seeing only a shallow average at best.

He illuminates this sense of standardization required by technology -- whether of physical materials or in people's education and training -- by referring to Heidegger's 1954 essay on Technology, a look at "modern ideology, our world without meaningful differences."

There are important truths here, and ones that his main audience -- the corporate world -- needs to hear, with its insistence that employees are just cogs, needing to be standardized to make them easily replaceable, and referred to as human capital.

The final chapter, What Are People For?, speaks to this idea. It is uplifting and powerful in its simplicity. Madsbjerg says:

"What are people for? People are for making and interpreting meaning. ...
What are people for? Algorithms can do many things, but they will never actually give a damn. People are for caring."

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