I don’t know if I displaying a keen anticipatory capability in focusing on Disorder, the all too often ignored fifth domain of Cynefin, in this annual update series; if so it was unconscious. But the current Covid-19 crisis has produced multiple examples of the criticality of the domain ranging from the deadly seriousness of triage decisions to the absurdity of the run-on toilet rolls that hit the UK and seems to have higher significance for most that a visit by a Vogon Constructor Fleet (for those who don’t get the reference in the picture). I had this post planned for last week but life has been frantic with back to back Zoom meetings coupled with getting together our response in a series of SenseMaker® projects and programs. The provisional site is now up but expect more material to be added as well as updates on this blog as things progress. Others have been picking up on the theme with posts from Chris Corrigan and my colleague Zhen Goh and there are many other references together with a body of work on Google Scholar that needs urgent review if anyone fancies the task. One of the many things that I wish I had done a few months ago.
Speaking of regret, the best part of a decade ago I started to argue and present the idea of creating a human sensor network using schools, community centres, and sports clubs. I wanted every 16 year old in every school in the world to act as a citizen journalist as part of a classroom project. Initially with Tony Quinlan and then with Beth Smith we proved the basic idea in several countries so it wasn’t some abstract idea. But to scale requires serious funding not project by project activity and we didn’t find anyone with the imagination to support it. One of the three arguments I presented to those interested was the need to be prepared for a pandemic, to depend on something other than social media. In the current crisis, people are starting to talk about this again and we are responding but with a very deep sense of frustration as this could have been in place years ago. I find it interesting that there are two groups of people who really should, but never seem to, get the whole idea. The one is the various tech gurus who understand the value of distributed cognition but want everything to be done via their algorithms and the other are those who want to curate stories from populations but seem blind to the epistemic significance of self-interpretation and critically, community-based facilitation. To make a tongue in cheek comment: the former seem to want a black box and the latter enjoy the power of curation too much for their own good!
Returning to Cynefin and the A/C domain (Chris calls it “WTF” but that could only apply to the A in the A/C) in the second post in this series I identified five pathways out of the A/C domain, but none into it. I now want to add a sixth so, in order from low to high risk (in in order of elimination) using slightly different wording and sequencing from my earlier listing:
- Shift to the small, liminal aspect of the complicated domain (it has a question mark in the diagram) where you are not totally sure of the value of the expert advice you are currently receiving (the decision-makers sees things as Aporetic but your existing body of experts are still insisting their advice is sound). Here rapidly setting up a debate between those experts and others from different backgrounds is a type of Aporia that allows to rapidly check and return as necessary
- Shift to the complex by identifying a series of coherent hypotheses around what will work and will not. There should be a contradiction between the hypotheses and they need champions. That means you can conduct a series of safe-to-fail experiments that change the dispositional space so that solutions become clearer. There are a range of methods and tools we can use some of which would be close to the liminal boundary, others closer to chaos. Some of these are more ad hoc than others.
- If there is a clear and obvious body of knowledge that you are either ignoring or do not possess which has high relevance, then you move to the complicated. If you had paid attention then you wouldn’t be in the Aporetic anyway and you would have things under control. Remember there is a strong tendency to avoid expert advice is the consequences are unacceptable at the time – bring them back, apologise and give them some authority.
- If the risk of inattentional blindness is high you shift into the chaotic-complex liminal zone and rapidly use MassSense techniques to identify different perspectives and critically minority perspectives that you might otherwise be ignoring. Outliers are key here as they are far more likely to have a solution that can be tested by shifting to the complex domain than the currently dominant views. Indeed the value of MassSense is the ability to map those dominances and identify their sources. But you need to build cognitively diverse networks before the situation if at all possible as that will allow a fast response. If you create one in a crisis keep it live, but best is networks for ordinary purposes that can be activated in times of extraordinary need.
- Not shown on the diagram but a critical one – you are not in an Anorectic state or if maybe the risk of that assumption is too high Then you move into the draconian and directive approaches of crisis management. Mind you chaos has different aspects and I need to update some of my earlier thinking on this later today or tomorrow
- Finally, and I have now shifted my view from the original list; the shift to the Clear (formerly obvious or simple) domain of Cynefin which simply assumes that standard processes and procedures properly applied will solve the problem. There is an obscure chance that this might be correct, a less obscure change that it might prove to work accidentally but it is a high-risk strategy.
All of these assume you are in the Aporetic not Confused aspect of the fifth domain. The danger of being confused is that you slip into chaos accidentally and that is something to be avoided. There is, of course, much in common between the Aporetic, Confused and Chaotic domains but there are three key things we always need to do:
- Initiate an innovation program using resources not occupied in solving what appears (and therefore probably is) a crisis. You’ve never had a better chance to change things. One of the initiatives we are triggering in the Cynefin Centre is a visioning process using MassSense of what comes after the current pandemic. Things will never be the same again but hopefully, we can use this time to come out more strongly, more resilient in the face of the wider challenges to come from global warming and more deadly pandemics. The two dangers here are idealistic visions that will never happen or out and out power grabs by those with too much power already. What we need to do is to map the multiple adjacent possibles, the stepping stones that can be taken early which will reveal future possibilities. We need to find ways of starting journeys that lead to better places not lapse in the lotus-eating behaviour of idealists which just creates the space for fascism and its modern variants.
- Start to learn at all levels now and in doing so remember one of my three key rules of knowledge management (extended from Polanyi) namely We can always know more than we can say and we can always say more than we can write down. Any organisation, government or industry has various processes that can and will be used to capture formal (written) learning but we also need to capture the day to day narratives as close to the point of learning as possible. We also need to think about how we use apprentice models of learning both to capture that experience and learn from it. In a crisis, there are always opportunities for capturing learning by using people whose normal functions have been suspended or are not being fully used.
- Retain diversity of response, not everything is chaotic and understanding the diversity of systems and sub-systems can allow you to apply the appropriate methods and tools in context. There will always be complicated and often clear actions and techniques; decision making needs to stay agile not plunging into a single domain but maintaining awareness of them all and the movements between them. The more we can shift from complex to complicated the easier it is to scale things, the more we can prevent entrained patterns of thinking and response from preventing that diversity the better.
Of course, the elephant in the room here is preventing repetition and also codifying all of our knowledge and learning in a form which can be readily used and readily replicated in both current and future crises with easy linkage to tools that display the sort of cognitive and system diversity I had advocated here. I’m working on a booklet on that the rest of this weekend so expect more later on that. There is also work to do on the entry into this domain which I am starting to think of as Confused & Conflicting in common language.
L’instant de la decision est une folie
Thanks to Zhen for this heading, in her earlier referenced post he quoted Derrida quoting Kierkegaard, “L’instant de la decision est une folie”, “The instant of a decision is a madness”, a leap of faith and she points out that for Derrida a decision was not programming; where we have a pattern of past success there is no stress in making a decision and this more or less applies in the Clear, Complicated and Chaotic domains of Cynefin. However, in the Complex and Aporetic, we are only there because the programs no longer work. To repeat Zhen’s quote from Derrida’s Dialanguages in ‘Points: Interviews 1974–1994’ (Stanford, Stanford University Press, 1995, 147–8.):
The moment of decision as such… must always remain a finite moment of urgency and precipitation; it must not be the consequence or the effect of theoretical or historical knowledge, reflection or deliberation, since the decision always marks the interruption of the juridico-, ethico-, or politico-cognitive deliberation that precedes it, that must precede it. The instant of a decision is a madness.”
The OED defines aporetic as a state of “perplexity or difficulty” which matches with Derrida’s idea of undecidability. The secret of leadership here is to make decisions (or acts of madness) that appear sane, but hold as many options open as possible, but not too many. We don’t really train people for this anymore but I always use Paton as an example – the supreme example of a wartime general who could not survive in a state of peace. I’m studied a lot of works about him over the years and there are two key aspects I always reference. As a cavalry commander, he knew how to look after his horse so he also learned to strip down and reassemble a Sherman Tank and as he was convinced he was the reincarnation of many past generals he studied and have a detailed memory of many many battlefields. That gave him an adaptive capacity above and beyond the more conventional planners of his time such as Montgomery. Adaptive capability, the ability to be decisive while holding options open is a key command//leadership ability in a crisis. Unresolved issues, aporia create the space for more effective decision making as they create tension. That can be achieved by questions, or paradoxical. Think of Matthew 21:22 “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” which gives a certain answer that really doesn’t resolve the question asked about tax. Using MassSense to show minority views as well as the majority and asking why forces diversity and contradiction into the decision process. Rounds of ritual dissent (the most popular technique I have invented) force diversity into the decision process.
One of the principal dangers in a crisis is premature convergence on a single solution and approach. You have to be very very lucky for that to work for the first time.
The other piece of work I need to complete is a typology of aporia. I also need to extend my recent work on Borton’s W³ question from the 1970s (often used but rarely attributed to include material in this series. For the moment this series now comes to an end. Tomorrow I plan to look more specifically at the Covid
The banner picture is a view over the Carneddau taken on the descent of Moel Siabod on January 15th 2019. Inset picture (with a wicked sense of humour in the current Covid-19 crisis) is by Jasmin Sessler on -Unsplash
PS: For those who have been following this series you may want to look at Kim Ballestrin’s Linked in post on nuanced leadership styles using Cynefin which elicited an interesting response from Chris McDermott who said “I often describe the top half (complex, complicated) as requiring a bias towards facilitative leadership while on the bottom (chaotic, clear) its directive leadership” to which David Bland responded “Similarly I have the top as ‘transformative’ and bottom as ‘transactional’ but I think in a tweet exchange with @snowded he was interested in how one style would apply across each”