AOM early reflections & Fox News

August 8, 2009

13½ hours from Sydney to Los Angeles, 4 hours from there to Chicago, 3 hours from the airport to my hotel,; guess which was the most stressful? I am now settled into Chicago until early Wednesday morning for the Academy of Management, a seminar (still places free) and an event for the KM community which has had to move to large premises (which is encouraging). Given that there are 6000 members of the academy present it would only take a rapid and unexpected tidal wave on Lake Michigan to change the dynamics of management education overnight!

We had a good session this morning on complexity which I will report on later, or tomorrow. For the moment, an interesting observation. After I registered I popped down the the exhibition to see what was around. It’s diminished from last year but has most of the publishers present; I adopted a disguise when passing the Elsivier stand to avoid awkward questions about the book. The only other exhibitors are for game simulators, and there are several of them.

Now this worries me a bit as there is a tendency these days to reduce the value of real experience in favour of the virtual. It seems to be that there are some significant problems with management games. Now there is nothing wrong with games or play as a method of learning, but I do have three concerns.

  • Computer simulations work from rules, and the secret of success is to learn the rules and then play to them. Real life is not like that
  • Apprentice models are more successful than simulations for learning transfer, and more importantly the generation of new knowledge. I would prefer to see a year in industry as part of a course, rather than a one week, or one day game. A game prior to experience is a good idea, a game as a substitute for experience is a very different thing.
  • The games being presented seem to sell of the benefit of not needing human management. Cognitive Edge has a simulation method, but its largely based on a human game-master team (supported by technology) that can introduce variety and surprise that responds to the specific context of the time.

The other minor presence is virtual learning, eEducation or whatever you want to call it. This seems somewhat reduced from previous years and I suspect that human interaction remains a differentiator for any discerning student or teacher. Learning is more than information transfer.

When I got to bed last night, I did my usual trick of turning on the news as background. That means if I wake up in the middle of the night – not unlikely with a 16 hour time shift – my conscious mind is engaged by CNN or the BBC who in overnight news channels do a lot of repetition. Unfortunately last night I accidentally set the television to Fox News and then managed to loose the remote. That meant I suffered a tirade against health reform and eulogies for the benefits of the Nixon administration (I kid you not). Polemic was endemic, reason absent. Indignation and depression (at the intelligence bypass required to take this stuff seriously) reduced sleep which will have consequences of my social interactions later today, i.e. curmudgeonly behaviour will be coupled with a short temper.

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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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