Cartoon of two people standing in a flowery meadow on a sunny day, holding hands with their backs towards the camera. they are both looking out over the meadow enjoying the beautiful scenery. In the distance there are forests, mountains and the sun
Image source MidJourney prompt by the author

It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see — Walden

Helge Tennø
3 min readSep 26, 2023


Collecting information and data about the world is getting all the attention, but it won’t bring us much value if we keep asking the same old questions. Making sense of the data is equally important to collecting it.

“We are collecting all this data, but still not coming up with any original ideas” — former colleague

Interviewing several data experts over the years one advice seems consistent:

the most important part of data maturity or literacy is asking better questions.

Information and data is what we record about the world. On its own it produces little value. It is only when we look at it, discuss it, ask questions and explore it — when we try to find out what it means that it produces value.

E.g. plugging data into an organization doesn’t change it. In fact the data will likely only make the organization commit harder to what it already is. It is only when we change how we think, or the questions we ask, that we will see the benefit from the data.

“Machine learning not only pick up bias from their training data, they also tend to become more biased than their training data” — Janelle Shane, You look like a thing and I love you

.. models are not mirrors of reality, “models are opinions embedded in mathematics”. From the data they use to the questions we ask they are reflections of the modelers own values, desired and world view. — Cathy O’Neil, Weapons of Math Destruction

This is where sense-making comes in. The act of making sense of our information and experiences allowing us to understand issues and events.

We are all already doing sense-making, but we don’t put much effort into it or challenge how we do it.

We operate as if we found the answer to how we make sense of things and we are in no need of any changes (similar to the head of the US patent office suggesting back in 1899 to disband the office as “everything that can be invented has been invented.”).

e.g. most of our current customer sense-making tools and methods like journeys, personas, design thinking etc.. They all stem from the 1990’s (an excellent decade for customer maturity), but since then we got social, mobile, internet-of-things, big data, artificial intelligence, agile organizations … we got all these new things, but we keep making sense of the world in the same old ways.

Maybe we are lucky, and it doesn’t matter. Or maybe we are lucky because everyone is still doing it in the same way and nobody is sticking their head out.

We are putting vast resources towards data hoping it will unlock new opportunities as by magic, while almost zero resources or attention is being put towards sense-making, the literal change maker in this entire process.

But I hope that is about to change…

“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” — Walden, Henry David Thoreau