Dave Snowden

When first we practise to deceive!

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Just to be clear up front, the title of this post is intended to be ironic and self-deprecatory as a tribute to the Olympic Opening Ceremony yesterday.  I must admit I have been a little cynical about said sporting event (and will be out of the country for most of it), but no longer thanks to the crass comments by a certain Presidential candidate.  Parochial is too good a word to waste …

Back to the subject in hand.  I promised to expand on the sub-framework I produced for complexity yesterday.  That framework used an idea from Ross Ashby of a stable state to which you have to return to contrast coherence and consensus and a zone or line of authenticity.  That also allowed me to start to represent disorder as two domains, that of the inauthentic and the transitionary.  

Consensus means the degree of agreement that exists on either situational assessment or decision making (I will nuance that split at some stage in the future but for the moment they are combined) within the group that has power to act or inhibit action.  Coherence means the degree to which there is a sufficiency of evidence to support an appropriate action.  In the complex domain (and remember that is where we are) any appropriate action is a safe-to-fail experiment(s).  Coherence in the complicated domain would require empirical evidence as the ordered domains of Cynefin are subject to efficient cause (the same thing will happen the same way consistently given the same starting conditions) whereas the unordered are not.

The basic idea of this latest framework is that authenticity requires a balancing of coherence and consensus.  If both are low that is acceptable, it means we are living in uncertain times.  If both are high then we can have confidence in not only our understanding of the situation, but also of the outcome of our course of action.  nbsp;If you stray from the balance then things go wrong and you need to rectify the position.

Now that is what I want to explore today.  I whose the tangled knot as the header illustration for two reasons.  Firstly this is a bit messy at the moment and secondly I needed to save a larger version of the diagram than the header allows. 

Here we have the diagram from yesterday, with various movements illustrated as blue coloured arrows.  I want to talk about each of those in turn.

Hopefully its not too tangled a web but it reminds me a bit of the first time dynamics were published in New Dynamics of Strategy where Cynthia and I put all the movements we could think of onto one picture!

So, remember that anywhere outside the green is a bad place to be and we can get started.

  1. Another name for the starting position here would be group-think.  Everyone believes something and acts accordingly, but there is no coherence to the position.  Now you could attempt to move back to the line horizontally, but that would mean taking too many people with you.  So to get authentic you will have to disrupt the consensus a bit.  The degree to which that is needed depends on how entrenched it will be.  But don't expect people to come on board easily if their cherished beliefs are challenged.   I am sure some people think that Romney has diplomatic skills and an international perspective but …..
  2. At the other extreme we have the pioneer (you know, the one with arrows in their back) who has seen the truth, but can't get anyone to listen.  I suppose we might call this the In the country of the blind.  Here the vertical transition is again too difficult, it means all those people who know you are wrong realising the error of their ways, donning sack cloth and ashes and coming to the mercy seat to beg forgiveness.  If you have let yourself get into this position then you are going to have to make it at lot simpler, or decrease the threat, or generally is some way or other compromise the purity of your position to gain acceptance. By moving to the left you make the climb back up shorter and easier.  Of course metaphor and risk reduction experimentation, self awareness and a whole body of techniques can be used here.  So the position is not lost but you should not have allowed yourself to get there in the first place, but that is what 3 and 6 are about.
  3. Faced with novelty, need to exit the inauthentic space its too easy to fail to balance consensus and coherence.  The most common, and lets be honest most likely to succeed strategy is to peruse the idea and not wait for those stick in the mud conservative slow thinking idiots get in the way.  Now that's OK, but you should be careful not to go too far (that is the position in 2) or to take two many risks (see 6).  This is where most entrepreneurs think and act.  Lets call this one The Pioneer strategy.
  4. The alternate is to seek consensus over coherence.  A lot of open space does this, its not concerned about truth and challenge its just concerned to gain agreement so the law of two feet does not come into play.  Its also the political strategy which is seeking influence over authenticity.  This can go a long way,  if enough people get to believe something really really stupid (like creationism or that Rooney is a viable candidate for the most powerful position in the world) then it becomes self reinforcing, opponents get burnt at the stake or choose to compromise their own knowledge of reality in order to stay in power.  So lets call this one the I want to be loved strategy.  
  5. Now 4 is not all bad, provided you stop soon enough and start to build an evidence base for your position.  Of course when you do this, a few less people will love you but you can get back on the right track.  The alternative is to collapse back into inauthenticity and/or irrelevance.
  6. The same really applies for 3,  if you make the right choices, then you start to seek consensus before your knowledge has gone so far that no one understands you any more (yes I know, I do that like all other inventors, but I try not to).  That will mean some compromise but then your ideas will gain support.  Fail to do that and its the collapse back to the inauthentic.

Now aside from seeking to gain more clarity about the complex domain, the framework also allows us to map ideas, where they stand and how they are used.  I am thinking of a SenseMaker® App for that, but workshop techniques need to be developed first.   Just like dynamics in Cynefin as a whole they are designed to provide guidance but not recipes for intervention.

So its messy, a bit a spider's web but the ideas are I think coherent.  It needs development, but I want to move onto the complicated, chaotic and simple domains first then start to pull it all back together.  That will take some time …

Just a note.  When I produced the original version of this the arrow that I now call 'authentic' was moving from chaos through complexity to order.  When I completed this with others in Switzerland in preparation for CalmAlpha, all of us realised after it had been drawn that there were similarities with the famous Stacy model.  Now Stacy deprecates the use of that, and it is different.  But Ralph and I have a lot in common as well as some key differences.  I'll forgive him for confining Cynefin (unnamed) to a footnote in his latest book.  I'll even forgive him for evidencing by his reference that he really hasn't done his research.  But I do need to post on that book 'Tools and Techniques of Leadership and Management' as its a good summary of Ralph's position and the similarities and differences are important and I need to explore them.  In the meantime read the book, its one of his best, but take the salt cellar with you

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