And here I stand

October 24, 2014

I was engaged in an interesting conference call yesterday while Michael was teaching a session in our four day programme here in Rio.   There is a forming idea to get together people with ideas who want to make a difference in the world (mainly development sector focused) to get some co-ordination, validation and overall to make a difference.

At the end of the call we agreed to define what we could all do, and in a mischievous mood I suggested we also list the things we didn't like.   Best I said to get that out in the open now.  So this morning I sat down and wrote my response between emails.   I then realised that I had neglected the blog (too much work, too much travel) so decided to post it here without alternation.

Just to be clear, the views starting with the personal pronoun are mine, not necessarily those of Cognitive Edge as a company or the network.  I'm pretty sure people in the company and network disagree with me.  In fact I hope they do.


My response

OK here we go – we stands for Cognitive Edge and SenseMaker®   If anyone wants a general overview coupled with a little polemic then this speech will give it to you.

What we can do:

  1. We understand how to do distributed ethnography which means transferring the power of interpretation to people who live problems rather than experts.   That also means we have new ways of measuring impact and creating an evidence base for interventions.   I’ve attached one case.
  2. Cynefin as a framework is much cited in the development sector and allows people to readily distinguish between complex and complicated situations using exemplar narratives that avoid the need for expert language or specialised knowledge
  3. We have a whole body of method designed for managing complex human situations, backed by theory from the natural sciences, avoiding case based models that insufficiently understand contextual change.   That also means we have new approaches based on sound theory as to how to scale success in complex systems.

What I want/hope for:

I want a body of method and capability that allows us to create a sustainable world that respects human needs considered as community not as atomistic individuals or based on individual self-interest.   If this group can help towards that I’m in

What I dislike and consider dangerous to said hope
deliberately not pulling any punches

Just to be clear here, I don’t require other people to agree with me, in fact its more interesting if they don’t.  But  I’m not really prepared to hold back on this stuff any more.   I’m 60 and the world is in a sorry state.  Neither of us have much time left and that requires honesty.

  1. Well intentioned people who grab the language of complexity without understanding its implications.  Often this is also ideological in nature.  Complexity theory does not carry ethics with it, those are choices we make as actors in the system.  My blog post on Meg Wheatley's latest book illustrates my concern
  2. Anti-intellectualism, denigrating theory in favour of simply acting based on what worked last time or worked for someone else.  Trusting it will work out this time without putting in the effort to understand.  It also leads the confusion of systems dynamics (the current dominant paradigm of managerialism in government and industry alike) with complexity thinking.  At the same time the over focus on modelling by too many academics involved in complexity science confuses human beings with ants and birds.  That is tunnel vision intellectualism which as as bad as anti-I
  3. Defining how things should be rather than dealing with how things are – my big disagreement with Senge who I think just instantiates a new form of neo-colonialism based on the qualities he finds attractive.  His refusal in Washington recently to engage in dialogue, preferring to preach, sums up the problem.   A related blog post discusses this in general.
  4. Pseudo-science, especially things like Spiral Dynamics and NLP that use scary eletist ideas of mastery.  Cultish psycho-babble of which Ken Wilber (but not all Integral theory) is an exemplar.  And the fact Wilber works with idiots like Beck who is the marketing end of the SD pair just makes it worse.

So that is me after a week in Rio with little sleep I look forward to reading those from the rest of the group.  


PS: Students of history will recognise the title of this post and possibly get the irony of it being used by a Catholic who firmly believes in justification by works, not by faith alone. 

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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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