In their report on future work skills 2020, the University of Phoenix identified ‘sensemaking’ as a critical core skill for the workplace. Sensemaking is the ability to determine the deeper meaning or significance of what is being expressed (by humans and/or machines). The continued emergence of smart machines and artificial intelligence is likely to place an increasing demand on knowledge workers to do the work machines cannot. These high level thinking skills help create novel insights for decision making and innovation.
Information searching is a form of sensemaking, recognizing when a gap emerges (some form of uncertainty or problem), seeking out new information, reacting (adapting) to search results, noticing and conducting further searches, then using the information. Understanding your personality is also a form of sensemaking. There are studies that show how personality affects online web searching behaviour (and how web search engines may have influenced our behaviour). There is a gap however, looking at these constructs in the workplace and how this is related to actual search task performance.
A research study was conducted in the workplace with a ‘Google like’ enterprise search engine and twenty six experienced professionals across four continents. Each participant individually undertook two search tasks aimed at fulfilling a realistic business question. Their activities were logged and their performance was judged based on identifying ‘hidden’ high value documents present in the information space being searching. A questionnaire was completed by each participant to assess satisfaction with their performance and personality traits, followed by a post experiment interview.
Overall, participants only found on average 27% of the high value items and were surprised in post experiment interviews when presented with this information along with the further details of why. How well search tasks are being performed in the workplace may be quite different to how people think they are being performed. Overconfidence bias may be in play by individuals as well as management – the ‘fallacy of centrality’, where executives may overestimate the likelihood they would know about such events if they were occurring.
An association was found (Figure 1) between search behaviour and the ways in which participants responded to certain questions in the questionnaire such as:
“When I am in the car listening to the radio, I often check other stations to see if something better is playing, even if I am relatively satisfied with what I’m listening to”.
Those that tended to strongly agree with that statement made more search queries that those who did not, which was statistically significant. There was however, no association between how many search queries were used for the task and how well the search task was actually performed….. more at: