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Dave Snowden

The domain of disorder (i)

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I’m out to Milan tomorrow and I am starting to feel like a Typhoid Mary for the unexpected having been in the UK for Brexit and California for Trump. The rapid onset of crude (in all senses of the word) populism is not something I expected to be living through in the modern age. Nor did I expect to loose all respect for many educated people I have know for years; but then I never expected that they would be prepared to excuse casual racism, gross misogyny, crass commercialism and the like on the vague need for change. In the last century the most basic reading of the history of the Weimar Republic should have taught us the danger of those approaches. When I wrote my earlier post on empathy I didn’t anticipate the speed with which things would get worse. On the bright side the response by readers to that post was amazing and I should be able to post news over Christmas on what will be an international project under the working title Engage, Empower, Enact. The goal of that project is to engage with the day to day stories or people’s lives and to create a way in which they are empowered to discover and create solutions to their own issues, presenting evidence for those in power to enact, or enable change. If it works it will in a sense be a life work and its occupied any spare time I had had since that post. Hence the lack of blog posts that I will hopefully rectify from today. I’m still looking for ideas of a theme for the Twelve Days of Christmas theme this year – all ideas welcome.

The immediate prompt for this post was a request from a wikipedia editor for clarity over the disordered domain in Cynefin. There is a clear link to my opening paragraph in that disorder in Cynefin is the state of being unaware of the underlying ontology, or nature of the system which results (other than in transitionary states) in inauthentic behaviour. But I’m more than aware that disorder, a critical Cynefin domain has not received the same attention as the other four. I’m using the metaphor of blue and red pills to make this point: do you want to be comfortable in a familiar pattern of decision making or are you prepared to face reality?

The introduction of disorder into Cynefin came (}I think at a workshop in Warwick University and was first published in 2000 in a set of conference proceedings at Aston University. I referenced in the 2002 article Complex Acts of Knowing but a word count limit meant I cut material then which was reintroduced in the 2003 article with Cynthia New Dynamics of Strategy. One of the first tasks I set when I finally got staff in IBM’s Institute for Knowledge Management (Cynthia and part of Liza) was to create methods for the social construction of Cynefin using exemplar narratives. Something they worked on for a key IKM event and then I firmed up in the field under fire in a major government session in Singapore where I created and/or elaborated the four points and linear methods for Cynefin creation. More recently I split it into two, authentic and inauthentic. The purpose there was to distinguish between a valid use of the domain to move from one of the other four to another, from the inauthentic core which we might, in reference to the pills, call static blue. The inauthentic state is one of feeling certain when uncertainty should be the norm.

The domain is often best understood when people go through the process of defining Cynefin by exemplar narratives as disorder is where Cynefin starts. But that is not a valid excuse not to write it up properly. I’ll need to do that for a future publication but this blog is where I start to think in writing so in my next post I will attempt to write it up in a more elaborate form than the mostly causal mentions in existing articles. I might manage that in one post, it might make two.

Any questions or comments to inform those posts are welcome

  • Tom

    Typhoid Mary for the unexpected or Pied Piper of Black Swans!

    I liked your point on feeling certain. It’s become clear over the past few years just how much of traditional project management is about creating the illusion of certainty.

    Looking forward to more depth on the disordered state.

  • Marcus Guest

    Always liked the Anais Nin quote for disorder ‘We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.’

  • https://twitter.com/chrizbot Chris Butler

    It feels like all new conversations using Cynefin should start in the disorder domain and then trying on different domains until one ‘makes sense.’ Is that your thinking?

    Are there any rubrics or quantitative tools to point us to a domain to consider first?

    • Dave Snowden

      No, if `Cynefin is defined then disorder is never needed other than for transition. We teach narrative based definition of Cynefin on the four day courses

  • http://www.nucognitive.com Daniel Walsh

    one idea for a future post on disorder…

    We brainstormed a few options for characteristic constraints, a dominant practice, and a response trio for the disordered domain (same structure as the other four domains). What do you think about this extension? Perhaps it is not appropriate for the disordered domain.

    This is the option we settled on after a short conversation
    * Indeterminant constraints (pseudo constraints was another idea)
    * Exploratory practice
    * inquire – reframe – partition

    We did not make a distinction for authentic vs inauthentic disorder in this first draft but we probably should have. Authentic disorder was what we had in mind at the time.

    • Dave Snowden

      Not sure , you will have to explain that to me.

      • http://www.nucognitive.com @danielwalsh

        What can be said about constraints in discorded domain?
        * Indeterminant constraints ~ not knowing what kind of constraints exist, hidden below cloud line. Same as indeterminant cause and effect for disordered domain

        What practice fits with disordered domain?
        * exploratory practices – “assume up front that you are in a disordered state and then seek to EXPLORE options.” We should engage in exploratory practices, if we assume we are in disorder

        Response heuristic for disorder?
        * inquire – reframe – partition
        inquire ~ engage in sense-making
        reframe ~ change perspective, try see situation for another point of view (phenomenological shift perhaps an epistemological shift as well)
        partition ~ split apart, some aspect maybe in one domain and rest in another

        Any feedback welcome… glad to learn.

        • Dave Snowden

          I’m completely reworking constraints at the moment – containers and coupling and a typology of constraint types. It will be a bit of time before I have that mapped, but for the moment I think disorder is the state of not knowing, but thinking you do which is inauthentic, the act of assuming you don’t is authentic or transitionary disorder

  • tonyjoyce

    Considering the pills has me thinking of medical scenarios. A major concern therein is the over prescription of pills and the resultant rise of drug resistance germs. We can view this through the authentic/inauthentic lens – Doctors who over-prescribe are providing inauthentic care. Doctors who are more attentive are paying more attention (authentic) and consequently can adapt more rapidly to react to and modify the system of treatment. But for the inauthentic ones, the system – nature – fights back and the “static blue” result is more virulent than ever expected. We might say in this case for every action there is an equal and indirect overreaction (with apologies to Newton).

    And then there is the White Rabbit version:
    “One pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small
    And the ones that mother gives you, don’t do anything at all

    When logic and proportion have fallen sloppy dead
    And the white knight is talking backwards
    And the red queen’s off with her head
    Remember what the dormouse said
    Feed your head, feed your head”

  • Mika Latokartano

    Most gratifying to see Disorder get much deserved attention. I consider it key in Cynefin and sense-making, and understanding its significance was a Heideggerian moment of poiesis for me; the bringing-forth, unconceling something that was concealed, to quote from my polemical essay on Authenticity.

    I went through my Twitter history on Disorder, and aggregated some thoughts on Disorder, as they would appear relevant. I’ve expanded some of them from the brevity of Twitter.

    The most neglected domain in #Cynefin – disorder, inauthentic – is also probably the most important for understanding the nature of Cynefin.

    Inauthentic(ity) (disorder) is a type of an ontological error and a cause for cognitive bias. It’s where we are most of times.

    We engage in sense-making to move towards authenticity of agency but it’s a dynamical process, not a one-off categorisation.

    Sense-making in Cynefin begins from the domain of ‘Inauthentic’ Disorder, from phenomenological apperception.

    Inauthenticity is always present as a gradient in every Cynefin domain as fuzzy boundary conditions.

    Inauthentic disorder is why we engage in sense-making and why Cynefin is dynamical sense-making framework.

    Inauthentic refers to inauthentic ontological awareness. We engage in sense-making to shift agency towards authenticity.

    Authentic agency is ontologically advised and epistemically validated motivation.

    When our actions are informed and autonomous, not compliant or conformist, when they are consistent, aware and situated, they’re authentic.

    Sense-making can advise agency towards authenticity, while true authenticity remains unattainable.

  • Florian Otel

    To your question about a theme for “12 days of Xmas” – post-truth (and its identical twin, populism) narratives versus “authentic” narratives. Top-down imposed narratives with the goal of emotional reactions and misleading vs real experiences and reflections etc.

    Should be a rather hot topic in the light of current events;))

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