Dave Snowden

Bramble Bushes in a Thicket

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Cynthia Kurtz and I recently completed a book chapter on the relationship between narrative and learning networks. It also explores some key issues in respect of the complex issue of Identity. Our last joint effort is one of the most cited of any article in which I have been involved and I hope this will follow that pattern. The abstract follows and all any any comments or criticisms are welcome if (or hopefully when) you read it.

In this chapter we explore how inter-organisational learning networks affect three systemic attributes of well-functioning organisations which are not often considered in value propositions for such networks: identity management, trust negotiation, and productive conflict. We approach the topic from the standpoint of a naturalistic sense-making paradigm, in which complexity, uncertainty and the stimulation of natural processes are emphasised over idealism, control and expert opinion. Since narrative and networks are two fundamental elements of human collective functioning and as such are integral to the naturalistic paradigm, we bring them together in this chapter. We consider how narrative participates in each of the network effects of identity, trust and conflict, and how that participation can best be supported to maximize these intangible yet strong elements of value afforded by inter-organisational networks.

Cynthia and I first met when an ad hoc group of people interested in narrative assembled in IBM. For about two years that group met every few months, outside of any official sanction or acknowledgment and did some great work. Cynthia was then working in the IBM labs but in 2000 she joined me in the IBM Institute of Knowledge Management. Shortly after that we started doing serious work under DARPA funding on narrative and complexity. The partnership has continued to this day and is one of the two to three most valuable working relationship I have had to date. We are different enough to create both necessary and creative conflict but we share a common objective to apply the power of narrative and its’ humanising impact to a complex world. We hope you like this latest contribution.

I got permission from the publisher to place the article on our web site in anticipation of the book being published. It was good of them to agree this so I hope at least some of you buy the book when it comes out!