Dave Snowden

When can we start again?

RSS Feed

Pressing demands on my time have meant I had to delay this final post of three. I’m also building a small backlog of posts around agility in business and cult like replication of ill understood practice which I need to get to, along with a major post updating apex predator theory and life cycle management which will be the subject of a members webinar tomorrow evening UK time. For those who have read my last two posts on this subject, the answer to the question in the title should now be pretty self-evident: other than in exception circumstances we can’t.

In Cynefin terms an accidental or deliberate shift into chaos destroys the previous patterns of connection and provides a short term opportunity for radical change. The opportunity will not be there for long, as the lack of effective constraints is the social equivalent of a vacuum in physics and something will rush in to fill the gap.

If you get a sudden collapse of order then seize the day becomes the imperative for those seeking change and/or new structures or ways of working. There is nothing like a good crisis for making people abandon past practice and filters and recognise they are now in a new reality. So preparing for such an event is a sensible practice. I’ve always argued that organisations should have an innovation team ready to be triggered in parallel with their crisis management process and that remains sound advice. However I am now widening that too point out that corporate failure can spawn multiple start ups for those smart enough to move on.

All of this also applies to acquisition. I got very good advice from a former CEO after the IBM acquisition of Data Sciences. He told me to go out with the colleagues I most valued and have a week long wake, remember all that was good and bad and celebrate it. Then take all the old moments, certificates etc home and store them away in the loft for at least a year without looking at them. The following Monday go into work on the basis you are starting a new job, the old is finished. Acquiring companies tend to focus on the brace new world they are offering and don’t create the space for mourning what is past. A simple change to the take over or merge process which would make a major difference. Humans need boundaries to cross fit they are to make any type of transition.

A more scary approach is too create chaos, by removing constraints in order to allow novelty. This can and does work but it needs to be contained as it is a risky strategy and can go wrong – skunk works or sand pits and common phrases for this type of activity. In Cynefin terms this is a liminal dip into chaos that then allows the complex interactions to be stimulated or triggered in a different way. Don’t change the whole company – that won’t work – but create contained experiments in radical change that cane quietly killed off, or displayed for subsequent adaption over the organisation as a whole. I’ll talk more about this tomorrow when I get on to the issue of over zealous change as a postscript to this series.

  • http://www.thebrokeronline.eu Wim Nusselder

    – We should not expect to be able to start again (except…),
    – we should not want to start again (except…) and
    – the opportunities to do so are rare and risky.
    Great advice.

    THE test of theory & advice is self-reflective application.
    “The contention of this paper is that we are entering a third age in the management of
    knowledge. Further, that the conceptual changes required for both academics and
    management are substantial, effectively bounding or restricting over a hundred years of
    management science in a similar way to the bounding of Newtonian science by the
    discoveries and conceptual insights of quantum mechanics et al in the middle of the last
    century. These changes are not incremental, but require a phase shift in thinking that appears
    problematic, but once made reveals a new simplicity without the simplistic and formulaic
    solutions of too much practice in this domain. A historical equivalent is the phase shift from
    the domination of dogma in the late medieval period, to the Enlightenment; moving from
    esoteric complication to a new simplicity based on a new understanding of the nature of
    meaning.” (Introduction to “Complex acts of knowing”, 2002)

    How does your advice apply, Dave?

    • davesnowden

      My advice in respect of change is in the three posts in this series. The extract is a description/assertion. You would have to say what advice you want
      Prof Dave Snowden
      Cynefin Centre & Cognitive Edge

      • http://www.thebrokeronline.eu Wim Nusselder

        If the advice is applicable to Cognitive Edge (and properly summarized)
        – why expect a third age in KM,
        – why want it and
        – why risk it?
        Did you (in hindsight) and do you still intend a dip into chaos of the KM scene?
        Who bore and bears the risks?
        To what extent did they materialize since 2002?
        To what extent did it work and is it still needed?

        From your Cynefin Centre description in 2002:
        “The Centre is based on a model of networked intelligence, creating a broad and loosely structured coalition of academics, industrial and governmental organisations to create new insight and understanding for its members into the complexity of managing in a new age of uncertainty.”
        To what extent is it now what you then intended it to be (which seems to describe an intended return to complexity from that liminal dip into chaos to enter that third age)?

        • davesnowden

          I think it was a fair description but while the shift is happening it’s not really called KM any more Cynefin Centre is fine thanks, building membership and programmes

          Prof Dave Snowden
          Cynefin Centre & Cognitive Edge

          • http://www.thebrokeronline.eu Wim Nusselder

            Telling me that the Cynefin Centre is fine doesn’t convince me, if too many indicators show otherwise.
            From my perspective it doesn’t look like “networked intelligence” and “a broad and loosely structured coalition of academics, industrial and governmental organisations”.
            It looks like a pyramid or like a network with Cynefin Centre or even you as a too strong node for the sake of the health of the network as a whole.
            Everyone agrees about your marketing qualities.
            The flip side of that is guarding the purity of the Cynefin framework.
            Cynefin Centre gives the impression that it primarily guards (spreads and teaches) OLD “insight and understanding into the complexity of managing uncertainty” rather than (empowering all to) “create NEW insight and understanding”.
            You do a great job creating new insight and understanding in your own individual capacity.
            I greatly value what I read from you.
            It is necessarily relatively narrow compared to what a network like you envioned in 2002 could produce, however.

            I fully endorse the value of Cynefin and gladly apply it.
            I see alternatives that technically/theoretically could add value/insight/understanding.
            They are overshadowed by your pyramid, however.
            It also creates enmity between you and others.
            Which is very sad, because together you could contribute much more to the world.

          • davesnowden

            You haven’t taken part in any Cynefin Centre event and you have no access to its activity or members so forgive me, but I don’t think you are in a position to form any legitimate opinion. I doubt you even know who the members are or the wider academic community with who I work. I know of two people you are chatting with on social media who have an antagonistic relationship to the work, in one case based on IP infringement and in the other because he wanted to call his own model Cynefin. That sort of things happens. If you don’t make a few enemies along the way you are not pushing the boundaries. I suggest you might demonstrate more integrity if you didn’t make general statements from a position of ignorance and focused instead on providing a greater degree of clarity in your posts, and also a focus on the subject matter so that we can all see what you can contribute.
            Prof Dave Snowden
            Cynefin Centre & Cognitive Edge
            Sent from my iPad Pro

          • http://www.thebrokeronline.eu Wim Nusselder

            Your thought be forgiven. :-)
            Sure, I still miss information.
            The indicators that I do have all point in the same direction, however.

            The subject matter of the contribution I try to make under this blog post was to test the limits of the validity of your advice (which I value and will apply when necessary) by applying it to Cynefin Centre & Cognitive Edge itself AS VISIBLE IN THE INTERACTION IN THE BLOGS HERE (for a start).
            That perspective on CC&CE is limited, but telling enough.
            I gather from your response that I am making myself clear enough.
            I don’t understand so will ignore your reference to ‘integrity’.

            The other blogs besides yours are marginal in size.
            The responses to your blog posts don’t tend to express a lot of criticism.
            Which can be understood as a result of the way you respond to criticism.
            I appreciate your directness; not everyone does.

            Can you please convince some independent thinkers who do take part in CC events to also start a blog here?
            I saw the invitation; what prevented others from taking up that invitation or from continuing a blog that they started here from your perspective (if you don’t share the way I am making sense of that phenomenon)?

            If CC&CE are part of a balanced netwerk, why does that not show here?

            In your first response you wrote: “You would have to say what advice you want”.
            I don’t ask (more) advice; I’m implying advice in return.
            I’m trying to help you.
            As tactfully as I can, given our direct mode of communition.
            No blame, no harm, no disrespect intended.
            I trust your integrity and value your contribution.

          • davesnowden

            You have no information about the activity in the network and you have not sought to participate in that other than by writing lengthily (frequently unclear) posts here and also sending me emails. You have not talked to any members of the network academic or practitioner. When you have gained some actual knowledge your opinion as to the health or otherwise of it will doubtless be of value for the moment it isn’t. . One the one specific point to make, we have not actively asked people to contribute to the guest blog for some time – other priorities and it may get activated gain but the retreats are the main generative activity this year. So no one has refused an invasion as none have been made. I like blogging, other staff don’t but they are (as you would know if you have any experience or knowledge) active in training and client work or supporting network activity, I probably overlap with them on 10% of this as they are all pretty autonomous.
            Now nothing that you have written here has anything whatsoever to do with the post subject. So I will leave it up for the weekend so those who want to can read it. I will then remove it and place it elsewhere with a link in case anyone remains interested to read it.
            Prof Dave Snowden
            Cynefin Centre & Cognitive Edge
            Sent from my iPad Pro

          • http://www.thebrokeronline.eu Wim Nusselder

            Of course, I have taken a limited sample of the activity of CC&CE.
            It is a bit larger than you may realize, because of stories about other activities than this website.
            Yes, biased stories, as every story, but nevertheless.
            My assumption that my sample is representative can be challenged of course.
            That you challenge it is to be expected.

            If character is a relatively stable (if emergent) characteristic of the complex adaptive systems that we tend to associate with human brains, regardless of context and circumstances, as psychology tends to assume, your personality probably has comparable effects in the actiivities of CC&CE that are not part of my sample.
            I see no a priori reasons for a distribution that is too skewed to justify my preliminary findings.
            Chief executives, leaders, those seen as representative of organizations and movements always have disproportionate roles their shaping.
            Their characters shape ‘their’ organizations and movements more than those of their employees/followers/represented.
            ‘Shaping’ is always interactive rather than causal, however.
            Executives can execute because employees do as they are told.
            Leaders lead because sufficient people follow.
            Representative people represent as long as enough others move in the same direction.

            What I write is a clear application of the subjects of these 3 posts in order to test the validity of your advice:
            – Can we expect CC&CE to change (as your ‘enemies’ must have hoped)?
            – Should we expect CC&CE to change (were they wrong)?
            – When can we expect it to change?

            I hope for answers from others than you before you reduce the visibility of what we exchanged here.
            You have found a perfect reason from your perspective for reducing its visibility.
            Thanks for keeping it visible so far and leaving a link to it, as it is case study that I intend to use in the thesis that I am writing about the performativity of models and theory in the social sciences, with a focus on practical consequences for the financial professions.
            Cynefin is highly performative and our exchange helps me to understand and analyze why.
            Thanks a lot!

          • davesnowden

            No one I know in the network knows you and from social media you are only talking to none person who was throw out for IP theft and one who was never a member. You’ll have to be more open for me to accept that claim :-)
            Prof Dave Snowden
            Cynefin Centre & Cognitive Edge

          • http://www.thebrokeronline.eu Wim Nusselder

            I do not claim contacts with more than those two persons plus Jules.
            Call/Skype/e-mail me anytime.
            I am open.

          • davesnowden

            I think that makes my point

            Prof Dave Snowden
            Cynefin Centre & Cognitive Edge

          • http://www.thebrokeronline.eu Wim Nusselder

            Your point being that being unknown as messenger disqualifies a message?
            Or that the size of my sample is too small to validate my (provisional) conclusions, despite my arguments to the contrary to which you don’t respond?

            In the tradition of positivist science I SHOULD not be involved too much in your network to be sufficiently objective.
            That is not my paradigm, but it may be yours.

            Please note that I HAVE tried to meet you in Amsterdam last week and to participate in your event there.
            I just wasn’t willing (and able) to pay for hearing you speak.
            If I would have been, that would have compromised my objectivity, of course.

          • davesnowden

            You haven’t had any contact with any member of the network, practitioner or academic and you make comments about that network? Sorry that is no basis to do anything other that ask a question.
            Prof Dave Snowden
            Cynefin Centre & Cognitive Edge

          • http://www.thebrokeronline.eu Wim Nusselder

            This exchange has been read and I received responses through other channels (which I haven’t engaged with so far).
            I await other responses here.
            The absence of which is another indicator for the network TO THE EXTENT THAT IT SHOWS ITSELF HERE to resemble a pyramid.

            Yes, please do interpret the things I wrote as questions.
            I often ended them with question marks anyway.

            Feel free to ask/suggest or even request members of the network, practitioners and academics to support your point of view here.
            That would help me tremendously to support or falsify my hypotheses.

            Next time you are in the neighbourhood, meeting some of them, please let me know.

          • http://www.thebrokeronline.eu Wim Nusselder

            Let me be clearer and even more relevant to the subject of this series of posts: starting again (radical change).

            Where I come from:
            – Interest in the Cynefin framework, which I apply for some 2 years now (after first encountering it some 7 years ago).
            – Interest in Dave as person, whose profile here is full of achievements and praise and rightly so, whose style I love and whose weaknesses intrigue me.
            – Interest for my research, that focuses on control vs trust financial professions, in the applicability and uptake of a Cynefin-based approach to that subject and thus in the ‘strength’ (performativity, subconscious persuasiveness) of the Cynefin framework, which -in the paradigm that I apply- relates closely to its social embeddedness

            The crucial question in this series for me is “Should we start again?”
            I have backread about origins and path of the Cynefin framework, about its social embeddedness and in reflections on its history in stories by a few actors in that history.
            Not just by Dave, of course, but also by others who have meanwhile changed course.
            “Complex acts of knowing” (2002) proved to be good entry point, as pointed out to me by Dave, in some sense better (for me) than the Harvard Business Review article from 2007.
            Better because it provided me with a self-identification of the (previous) Cynefin Centre within IBM, which spawned Cognitive Edge, which branched into the Cynefin Centre of Bangor University.

            “Complex acts of knowing” heralded ‘CHANGE!’
            That Cynefin Centre self-identified as network: “a broad and loosely structured
            Change in knowledge management (as heralded) or helping organizations deal with uncertainty by complementing (rather than changing) the engineering approach with an ecological one (from Cognitive Edge’s ‘About us’ page now) has an intellectual and a social aspect.
            These interact and such interaction is the subject of my research.

            Has it achieved, does it achieve, will it achieve what it strives for?
            Any answer to any question “Should we start again?” will be answered, at least in hindsight, on the basis of answers to such questions.
            That’s why I referred back to that self-understanding and that call for and/or prophesy of change.

            As in any proper research I am open to any outcome, but I do start out with a hypotheses.
            These are that CC&CE
            – is not able to change sufficiently radically (unless…),
            – should change, measured by its own aspiration and the limited chances of realizing it when continuing on the present course and
            – will not change until its pyramidical structure changes sufficiently into the network that it wanted to be.

            There is too much at stake for Dave for a confirmation of these hypotheses to be expected from him.
            Even though their confirmation or convincing refutation would help HIM to realise what was probably primarily HIS aspiration.

            Can anyone other than Dave (although he is also free to do so, of course) help me (and him) by responding here?

          • Dave Snowden

            You need to start a blog of your own.

            You’ve created a hypothesis about a network of which you have no experience based entirely on your own imagination and comments from one congenital liar who was thrown out for gross breech of his licence terms (the only one we have ever had to do that to in a decade or more) and the second a rather sad individual who wanted to use the Cynefin brand for his own radically different model. It’s rather like forming a hypothesis about the USA based on a tweet exchange with Donald Trump and watching one night of Fox News.

            There are multiple opportunities to exchange with the network by attending courses or simply contacting people on social media. You can check the multiple references through google scholar and monitor those who use the material outside of any CC/CE management structure. Above all, if you want to get a hearing or a response you would be better served by asking questions not making wild assertions with no basis in research, experience or anything else for that matter.

            Most people are amazed I’ve been prepared to respond but I’ve always tried to be open and unlike Poor Old Tom, I’ve never deleted material which was critical. However your comments here have no relevance to the material in the post. So I will copy all of these posts and your responses into a file before deleting them in days time. I will provide a link to the material for those interested so it is not lost. If you want to pursue something then create your own forum and give me a link and I will put that into a post on the subject so people can find said forum and respond to you there.

          • Michael Hill

            I can’t really figure out what it is you are looking for. I’m definitely not part of a pyramid. I’ve never taken a course from Dave, I’ve heard him speak once, but someone else was paying and him speaking was not the original reason I was there. I’ve posted a few thoughts and questions on his blog. He’s kindly answered me. It appears that he is a public face of Cynefin and the Cynefin Center, but I’ve heard from others with CE & CC as well. They seem to interact with others who are also interested in Complexity and Managing Complexity.

            Did they change the course of KM, yes and no, because KM hasn’t converged into a strict disciple (and it might never do so). It’s a fragmented field, with those concentrating on explicit knowledge and applying tools like Lean Six Sigma and SharePoint, sometimes appropriately, mostly not. It has analytical types, which look at every problem as if more analysis will solve/improve it, whether it’s already as a good a process as can be achieved (no more ROI here) or one that will only continue to evolve as they study it (complex). There are the storytellers, the thinkers, the probers, those who love a crisis, and the techno-fetishists, fluffy bunnies and outright charlatans spouting high sounding nonsense. Many have expanded, some contracted, the blob that is “KM”. I do think though that the Cynefin Framework, CE & CC have been ‘attractors’ and have stimulated mostly positive patterns of behavior, helping some in KM to fight the push to make everything simple, with LSS metrics and an immediate ROI.

            What is a broad and loose coalition? When I read Andrea Burk’s “Principles of Play”, and someone using Cynefin to improve Rugby, I have to think that’s a bit broad, and a bit loose. Dave would probably rather see Welsh rugby improved, but I see Cynefin pop-up in strange places and when teaching KM I often talk about ‘oil-spotting’ as a technique for rolling out KM initiatives: spotting a bit of oil here and there and letting it spread, rather than the usual burning platform or I’ll get the boss to buy off and a coercive policy (with good intentions, but coercive no less), neither of which work as well as finding where to drop oil on the waters, and letting it spread, becoming part of the organization in small moves. Letting it become a new social norm for most before taking on those who will oppose. That can often look more than broad, and so loose as to be disconnected. Is the water taking the shape of the mold, when does it finally solidify into the shape of the mold? If you are about moving to the adjacent possible, how do you define success 10-20 years later? You can’t, you just keep looking at the vector. In my own application, I can be distressed about how far we’ve come, or look at how it was going before. I can look at the occasional contacts from the field, or the one’s who reach out saying, “I heard you might be able to help”, or be despondent at how many still trudge downward on the old path. I’ve thought of the big bang, of the coercive strategy, and it might make me feel better in the short run, but it didn’t succeed in checking the fall – why try it again harder this time?

            So I probably haven’t answered your question, but then I’m not sure what you are looking for, even if you are, and I suspect the frame will define the picture and that isn’t usually art I’m interested in.