1 Peter 5:8

July 13, 2008

The Wikipedia is a fascinating example of a complex system and I am enjoying editing it far more than most listservs. Yes the controversies can be lame, it has taken over a month to resolve the wording of the opening sentence on Philosophy in a discussion that has resembled mediaeval debates as to the number of angels that could stand on the had of a pin, but we got there. The edit-wars and sockpuppetry on all pages relating to the national status of Wales, Scotland, England and Ireland represents a constant challenge, but right seems to win out in the end. My latest enterprise is to see if the article on NLP, one of the great pseudosciences of our time, can be improved. I essayed a few minor edits this morning and will await developments.

One of my real concerns here is the frequent conflation of Cognitive Edge methods with NLP and that other current popular method Appreciative Inquiry (AI). Now there is a big difference. My concern about AI is that it privileges one type of story over an other. Why should anyone tell people what type of stories they should tell? Despite my disagreements I can respect its practitioners and see that it has utility in constrained circumstances. Its attraction to managers is obvious with the Always look on the bright side of life philosophy; but it has its time and place. NLP on the other hand represents at best one of those false evolutionary paths than humans go down from time to time; at worst it is a manipulative cult. A good summary can be found in the ever useful Skeptics Dictionary, and there is also a body of scientific evidence that its basic assumptions are flawed so I should be surprised that it still has adherents.

However the human race seems very willing to seize onto self-help therapies that abscond with some misunderstood concepts drawn from a shallow reading of scientific literature. It may be evident of a flawed need for certainty, or evidence of the need for some source of meaning in the face of uncertainty. Whatever it is dangerous, the uncritical adoption of a set of ideas is the starting and ending point of cultism, from which (and I appreciate the irony) Good Lord preserve us. As St Peter says Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.

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The Cynefin Company (formerly known as Cognitive Edge) was founded in 2005 by Dave Snowden. We believe in praxis and focus on building methods, tools and capability that apply the wisdom from Complex Adaptive Systems theory and other scientific disciplines in social systems. We are the world leader in developing management approaches (in society, government and industry) that empower organisations to absorb uncertainty, detect weak signals to enable sense-making in complex systems, act on the rich data, create resilience and, ultimately, thrive in a complex world.

Cognitive Edge Ltd. & Cognitive Edge Pte. trading as The Cynefin Company and The Cynefin Centre.


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