Dave Snowden

Easy reading is damn hard writing

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One of the questions I frequently get asked after a conference or meeting is What should I read next?  My normal response is to refer to the web site which has all the articles we are allowed to publish, both by me and by others.  However after over a decade there is a lot of material there.  We need to improve the navigation a bit in the next refresh on the web site – Michael and I will have some conversations about that this coming weekend – but in the mean time I thought I would give a somewhat discursive summary of what is there.

I'm also going to do this in stages, so in the first post I will look at book chapters which I consider still relevant, where we have no right to re-publish.  In two future posts I will summarise articles on the web site (and that will include some book chapters) and then the wider reading list which is very eclectic and needs some narrative guidance. 

So, to book chapters where you will have to find a library or shell out the dosh!

  • The HBR article I wrote with Mary Boone is available and you can get access with limitations if you get a free HBR account or pay $6.95 for a pdf copy.  I am told that a search on Leader's Framework for Decision Making may find a copy but I have no means of telling if those are legal or not.  That article summarises the Cynefin framework although it uses a three dimension picture rather than the usual four sweeping strokes of a pen which I prefer.   I have recently updated and improved the leadership table from that article.  That has won two awards, on top of being the cover article in Nov 07.  The first from the OB division of the Academy of Management as the Outstanding Practitioner Orientated Publication in 2007.  The second in 2011 as one of the top 50 papers that year.  Aside form the fact its a great paper and easy to read, its also a strong credibility statement if you want to convince executives of the value of taking complexity seriously.
  • I wrote a chapter Naturalizing Sensemaking in Mosier and Fischer's  Informed by Knowledge: Expert Performance in Complex Situation covering both Cynefin and SenseMaker® principles.  That book has a lot of good material including a second article co-authored with Gary Klein and others on a Singapore project we ran.  That you will have to buy I'm afraid and its expensive.  We are trying to get permission to publish it, but without success.
  • More recently I summarised the Gaussian/Pareto material with Cynefin and SenseMaker® in another chapter whose title defers to Robert Frost.  Its called Good Fences Make Good Neigbours in W.B. Rouse, K.R. Boff, & P. Sanderson, Eds., Complex Socio-Technical Systems: Understanding and Influencing Causality of Change.  That is even more expensive I'm afraid and its academic
  • Building on the Cynefin theme I wrote a chapter called Knowledge Theory Perspectives on Place Branding in Go & Govers (eds) International Place Branding Yearbook which is more affordable.  That looks at issues of place and location and is more about some of the thinking behind SenseMaker® than complexity per se, but it is also strongly focused on the idea of Cynefin as a sense of time and place.
  • Gary Oliver and I wrote Patterns of narrative in organizational knowledge sharing: Refolding the envelope of art-Luddism and techno-fabulism  which is in: Schreyögg, G./Koch, J. (Eds.): Narratives and knowledge management.  Exploring the links between organizational storytelling and knowledge management.  That chapter is a lot of fun but its very very very expensive so go and find a good library.  It did send David Boje into a paroxysm of defensive invective; I thought art-Luddism was so much better than New Age Fluffy Bunny but there is no accounting for post-modernist wrath.  The reaction was interesting given that he has at least once, to my knowledge got his facts so badly wrong that he told a clear untruth.  On being challenged he refused to make a correction while admitted he had not read the material he quoted, but relied on a third party comment.  Just to be clear I find David's writings useful and at times inspiring, I just wish he would listen and do some simple fact checking from time to time, or even accept correction.  
  • Finally we have an important piece of work written with Laz Anticipatory modes for Counter Terrorism in Popp, R & Yen, J Emergent Information Technologies and Enabling Policies for Counter-Terrorism.  That goes back to 2006 but its still very relevant but again I am afraid expensive.

The first two are probably the most useful for a general reader and for use in advocacy.  The others have value depending on your interest, background and field of work/study.   The quote which titles this post is from Nathaniel Hawthorne a 19th Century American novelist.  It summarises the first two which took far more time and effort from me (but not necessarily the co-authors) than many an article.