A day in New York

April 16, 2015

16496091486 c9c310606d oSo back to New York last night to open the second day of LeanUX2015.   Last year we were in a hotel in New Jersey, this year we flipped to an interesting venue in Brooklyn.  The picture shows it before it was converted to a conference venue complete with bar and porta-loos.  Very much a festival atmosphere and other than the bright lights which meant I couldn’t see the audience and the travel issues between hotel and venue it was a lot of fun.   My keynote was designed to take a complex systems approach to Design Thinking and you can find the slides here.

One of the problems with this conference is that I know a lot of the people and a lot of people know lots about me!   But some are new so it is always difficult to know where to start.   So I did level set with a basic overview of the Cynefin Framework but I then made a series of questions designed to illustrate the differences between order and un-order: exoskeleton v endoskeleton, exaptation v adaptation, sequential iteration or parallel safe-to-fail probes, loose or tight coupling and scale by imitation of reassembly.    I’ve posted on all of those over the year but it was interesting to put them together in one presentation.

The main point I was making was the various differences between linear and non-linear approaches.   Traditional design thinking (and here I was referencing Roger Martin and IDEO who I read again before the presentation) takes a linear approach; the famous knowledge funnel from mystery to algorithmic exploitation.   Rather like Scrum in Agile this is a complex to complicated linear and iterative shift heavily dependent on facilitation and/or expertise.   Nothing wrong with that and it had, has and will have a lot of value.   But just as we need pre-Scrum methods and tools in Agile so we need non-linear approaches to design which can handle faster life cycles (the grazing dynamic in Cynefin) and dynamic service environments rather than product creation.

One of the more important issues here is to switch the focus from individual qualities (something which much occupies Martin) to creating more dynamic non-linear processes.  That is also important in that there is a constant danger that gifted individuals (such as Martin) assume their skills can be readily transferred to other individuals.   My long standing approach to knowledge transfer has been the same as the approach to scaling in complexity, namely to use finer grained material and recombination over multiple people and processes.   Something that SenseMaker® does with distributed and scalable ethnography.   I worked on that at some length in the presentation with various images.   

If you look at the slides you will see one titled The Nonaka Drop that is designed to show that a linear design process (in the Martin sense) in effect creates a defined product rather than a dynamic capability.  Now that is a descriptive statement not a judgement.  We need both.


Picture from Will Evans at the LeanUK site, permission assumed to use assumed ….

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About the Cynefin Company

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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