Thursday, February 23, 2012


In the first place, in order that by exercises of this kind, as well he who gives as he who receives them may be profited, it must be presupposed that every pious Christian ought with a more ready mind to put a good sense upon an obscure opinion or proposition of another than to condemn it; but if he can in no way defend it, let him inquire the meaning of the speaker, and if he think or mean wrongly, correct him kindly ; if this suffice not, try all suitable means by which he may render him sound in meaning and safe from error. (St. Ignatius of Loyola)

In the evening, you briefly consider the truth of a claim (or several claims). In the morning, you write a paragraph (or several paragraphs) supporting that claim (or those claims). This exercise will foster a "propositional attitude" in your thinking. It will be good for your style.

But what does it mean to write a paragraph? For the purpose of this exercise, I encourage you to start with a confidently (but not stubbornly) held opinion. It should be expressed in a proposition you know to be true and the truth of which you can defend. Your ability to defend it is, as a first approximation, your ability to write five or six supporting sentences, and a paragraph is simply those sentences arranged as support for the claim. We call the sentence that expresses the central claim of the paragraph the "key sentence".

Let's consider an example. In the evening, you might write down the following sentence:

Sensemaking is the formation images that rationalize what people are doing.

In the morning, you get up and proceed to support it. Now, one of the reasons that you are confident about this claim is that it is orthodox. It is not just your opinion but a widely held one. Indeed, it is a classic definition of sensemaking. In fact, it turns out to be an almost verbatim transcription of Weick, Sutcliffe, & Obstfeld's definition. And (if you click on that link) you can see that the claim has already been used to anchor a paragraph that supports it.

We might want either to mark the quotation—Sensemaking is the formation of "images that rationalize what people are doing" (Weick, Sutcliffe and Obstfeld 2005: 409)—or rewrite the sentence as a paraphrase of their point—Weick, Sutcliffe and Obstfeld (2005: 409) have defined sensemaking in terms of the images that rationalize our activities. Either way, we can imagine a paragraph like the following (from this post) to support it:

Sensemaking is the formation of "images that rationalize what people are doing" (Weick, Sutcliffe and Obstfeld 2005: 409). At the start of each day, for example, members of a given organization may show up at the same places (their offices) and begin, say, to make sense of their emails. They may answer some with great care and delete others without even reading them. They will file some for later, or, if they answer them right away, mentally note that they are engaging in "personal business" on "company time". This may be worth only a fleeting thought or a record in a logbook of some kind. Or it may simply be an occasion for a mildly guilty conscience. It all depends on the "images that rationalize what they are doing". These images are particular to particular organizations, and we therefore do well to study them when making sense of organizations, i.e., studying them as organization theorists.

Having written such a paragraph, your peers are in a position to inquire your meaning, and if they think you are wrong, to correct you kindly.

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