Dave Snowden


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My earlier post on the various ‘I’s of anthro-complexity excited a range of comments and ideas for which my thanks. I’m continuing to explore this starting with my original three namely Intent, Intelligence and Identity acting as a starting point. My current working assumption is that few, with little overlap is better. So I am experimenting, by writing, to see how that would work out. I originally suggested that identity in humans is fluid in nature but there was some confusion in my original between individual and collective identity. So now is a chance to clarify my thinking. To be clear I am exploring not asserting, but the best method of exploration is to assert.

One of the ways I have explained identity mapping at an individual level is to think about a series of magnets which can alter in polarity in strength surrounding a surface. On the surface are iron disks some coupled with chains, others with elastic in myriad forms. As the magnets change polarity of strength then the iron disks change their patterns. If one magnet dominates it will attract all. In a metaphor we can consider the magnets to be roles we play, normally they are all in play to some extent but different ones will dominate. Parental roles dominate if your children are under threat for example, but even when other roles dominate that is still there. Ritual in crews allows temporary alignment of identity with role.

When identity aligns with role we get another form of identity known as a crew which has capabilities different from the sum of the individual members of the crew. Knowledge is contained in the linkages, tools and training as much as the individuals. Another type of identity is created by multiple stories told and retold within a community around a common theme. This creates a trope which if strong enough may gain existence independently of its creators. It then exercises downwards causation. Known as an assemblage in Deluze and others this is a very interesting area of exploration and one I think we can map with SenseMaker®. When we are caught up in such an assemblage we are capability of create acts of charity and equally great acts of cruelty. This type of collective identity can also be called an ideology.

Ideology is one manifestation of collective identity. Other forms are purely symbolic. Language has complex forms and in Britain we have found many ways of allowing people to save face by saying yes while meaning no. I just bought a T shirt which contains the phrase “it’s not quite what I had in mind” translated as “What the bloody hell is this?”; other examples in this link. All cultural groups create identity through language and language forms. Common stories both formal and informal do the same thing. They all create a form of enabling constraint that create conference but no common form.

I think that relationships are one of the ways that identity is established, and I don’t think that the notion of an individual as creating those relationships is an adequate explanation of a co-evolutionary process. We are, as far as I can ascertain from my reading, more influenced by our relationships over time than my any innate qualities. Nature may deal the cards, but nurture plays them. The irony then is that by talking about 3 “I”s I am shifting away from the emphasis on I.

Of course I am only touching the surface here, identity has a huge literature behind it. I am focused here on aspects which can be easily explained and assist management. What is missing here is the question of authenticity, but that is a subject for a post or two at least. Overall identity is not neat and tidy, some aspects may be visible, others are (to use the metaphor of the opening picture) hidden in the mist.

So identity works for me, tomorrow I’ll move on to intelligence.