A Review of the Third Lens: Multi-Ontology Sense-Making and Strategic Decision-Making

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A Review of The Third Lens: Multi-Ontology Sense-Making and Strategic Decision -Making edited by Mika Aaltonen reviewed by Ray Cooksey published by Ashgate ISBN 9780754647980 (2007)

This book offered a series of stand-alone yet ostensibly inter-connected essays designed to present complex human systems viewed through a metaphorical 'third lens'. Third lens, according to Mika Aaltonen, was multi-ontology (multiple conceptions of reality), which influences and is influenced by epistemological and methodological 'lenses' to generate contextualized understanding. Aaltonen employed this third lens as a device to enhance strategic and future-oriented sensemaking. Such sense-making was argued to be further enhanced through recognition of the importance of time to the contextualization of any understanding that might be achieved. The book was written as a type of'sandwich': three beginning chapters (all by Aaltonen) to set the stage and develop what he termed a 'chronotope space' for displaying strategic landscapes and three concluding chapters by various authors, which challenged conventional notions of causality implicit in sense-making activities, surrounding the three middle chapters by various authors, which developed specific perspectives for modeling sense-making. A final but extremely brief concluding chapter by the editor attempted to bring the collection to a meaningful conclusion.

Aaltonen developed the concept of chronotope space through chapters 1 to 3. He provided a contextual foregrounding discussion of strategic decision making in Chapter 1 which set the stage for developing his 'third lens' perspective as a way of linking time and strategic landscape in the context of an organization's past, present and future. The chronotope space provided a conceptual way of tying together diverse modes of thinking about the future. Using a spherical coordinates metaphor, visionary (future-oriented), linear and disruptive (nonlinear, discontinuous, perhaps chaotic) thinking defined the poles of a 3-dimension axis system, along which an organization's strategic context could be located at any point in time. Different positions along the three axes called for different ontological, epistemological and methodological emphases in sense-making-thus creating a link to the 'third lens' metaphor. Aaltonen also argued that organizational positioning within a chronotope space implied particular 'takes' on what constituted causality and how it might be observed/understood. As a trio of chapters, Aaltonen did a reasonably convincing job of selling the value and potential utility of the chronotope space framework. However, after chapter 3, chronotope space was not referred to again until the final concluding chapter in the book.

Aaltonen intended the middle three chapters to illustrate how his framework could work for particular types of strategic problems. Chapter 4 (by Stefan Bergheim) displayed an exercise in large-scale systems modeling from an economic perspective. This perspective invoked a number of largely undefended assumptions (e.g., quantifiable system variables; achievable long-term equilibrium within the socioeconomic system, absence of feedback linkages) resulting in what was essentially a conceptually linear market segmentation model. The concluding section of the chapter was almost apologetic in focusing on what the model excluded or could not cope with, which largely negated its potential as a contextually sensitive forecasting tool. Furthermore, the chapter never clearly connected with the concept of the third lens nor with the chronotope space perspective that had been developed in the first three chapters. The chapter was therefore almost completely independent of the overarching theme of the book itself.

Chapter 5 (by Tapio Kanninen) displayed a useful dynamic political perspective designedtoassistfuture-thinkersinidentifying and assessing global and regional threats (what Kanninen called an 'early warning-response system'). …