A narrative-based definition of conflict and crisis

October 3, 2010

Today we spent the day as a family, along with some other couples with kids at the age of my 6 y.o. son. While the kids were playing, we the parents were drinking coffee or beer and small-talking. Trying to argue in favor of our opinion on issues concerning our kids, we were actually talking on our assumptions. We were recalling incidents from our experience (anecdotes), which actually were just folds of a single and coherent narrative, unique for each one.

I realized once more how powerful this personal narrative is. Through the inner dialogue (with the self-narrator) and conversations (with the others) it is repeated so many times that has become dominant in our head. It is the perception filter and the behavior commander; the relationships builder and the connections glue between us and the world; all these interweaving at the same time.

So, here is a brief alternative definition of conflict and crisis.

A conflict happens when this inner-personal narrative is strongly different between two or more persons or groups. The difference can lie on the story-pattern, the mission, the protagonists or the values.

A crisis starts when none of the available narratives in a group, organization or society (that are thought to be able to apply) can explain the current situation or face the forthcoming challenges.

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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.

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