• Cognitive Absorption

    This post originally appeared on the Cognitive Edge blog on May 9, 2014.

    As I mentioned in my last post, I am #WorkingOutLoud on how and when I introduce story data and related Cognitive Edge methods to my client, CareOregon.

    The overall objective is to improve sense-making and follow-up actions for the CareOregon June workshop we* will run. Since I live on the US east coast and Oregon is on the west coast, the pre-workshop activities will be technology-assisted.

    [* I am running this project with the assistance of another consultant, Melissa Anderson, and my two primary CareOregon contacts, Nancy and Jaclyn.]

    Here are the four objectives I wrote on.

    1. I want workshop participants to acquire new methods and story findings in smaller increments to overcome cognitive overload.
    2. Using technology, I want to minimize the distance factor to enable pre-workshop learning.
    3. Reviewing with Nancy and Jaclyn, determine how and will whom can be involved in the pre-work.
    4. This advance set of activities makes a statement that “this is not your typical workshop.”

    Story Theming before the workshop

    When we see interesting patterns in the triads or dyads used in a SenseMaker® project, we can decide to pull out the group of stories in that pattern and theme them.

    This process takes place when people are physically in the same room. In my case, I want to try a process where people receive story packs and then come to an online space at the same time to do the theming.

    Once we decide our story capture is done, I will create the triad and dyad patterns in an emergent pattern report. My thought is a small group can work with me in reviewing the patterns to determine what could be useful to dive deeper. I would create story packs for each area. The next thought would be to determine the group composition for this activity and have the event or events.


    Some of my concerns about this include the use of an online tool that could be difficult for some participants to use and how does this approach effect the results? At this point, I’m thinking about using Realtime Board for this endeavor.


    Safe-to-fail probes and obliquity

    One of the Cog Edge methods used to move into action after story and pattern reviews is Safe-to-fail probes (you need a free basic membership to this site to access this material). This is a new concept for most people we work with. Usually, it is introduced in a sense-making workshop toward the latter part of a one-day workshop. It works, but I am concerned about too many new approaches and techniques introduced in one day. At the same time most people are seeing the study results for the first time. I want to ease people into understanding this process and start addressing concerns ahead of time.


    One of the aspects of building a complex safe-to-fail probe is to include some oblique actions. Oblique actions do not directly address a problem. The example that jumps to my mind is the city mayor who paints over all the graffiti on train as soon as it happens rather than attempt to apprehend the artists. This particular action had the effect of reducing graffiti.[**] See this earlier blog post that defines it quite succinctly.

    [**If anyone remembers where this example came from, please comment on it. Thanks.]

    Before the workshop, I want to create some small group meetings using GoToMeeting where I can present safe-to-fail and obliquity. People will be encouraged to ask questions or get in touch with me after to resolve confusion (as best as possible).

    That’s the plan. My next step is conversations with Nancy, Jaclyn, and Melissa to flesh things out.

    You can stop reading here unless you want to read the pre-process and in-process steps to writing this post.

    1. I wanted to create the map you see above in NotesPlus. I abandoned that process because it just seemed like too much work to get what I got by my paper and color pens.

    2. I also started to write this post in NotesPlus. That also seemed too hard. I moved to the text editor on my Mac.

    3. I got stuck writing the section on story theming because I could not easily find something already written about it. We really need something in the Library section on this. I talked with Zhen about this and she gave me a Keynote presentation to borrow materials. Let’s see when I can get that done.

    4. The photo taken of the thinking map was brought into Tech Smith Snag-it editor and cropped into the different pieces you see here.

    5. When I did the thinking map, I just wrote the first thing that came to mind for the post title, “Improving cognitive absorption”. It turns out that cognitive absorption has a special meaning. Here’s the essence.

    Cognitive Absorption – Agarwal and Karahanna (2000) define the construct of cognitive absorption as a convergence of Flow, as defined by Trevino and Webster (1992) and cognitive engagement (Webster and Ho, 1997) with one additional dimension, temporal dissociation.

    Specifically Agarwal and Karahanna say in p 673 (2000):
    * Temporal dissociation, or the inability to register the passage of time while engaged in interaction,
    * Focused immersion, or the experience of total engagement where other attentional demands are, in essence, ignored.
    * Heightened enjoyment, capturing the pleasurable aspects of the interaction,
    * Control, representing the user’s perception of being in charge of the interaction, and
    * Curiosity, tapping into the extent the experience arouses and individual’s sensory and cognitive curiosity (Malone 1981).

    It would be great if this process achieved anything close to this description!

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