Boxes and Boundaries

August 8, 2006

I’ve expressed my dislike of crude categorisation twice within the first week of blogging: on the 30th July and 2nd August so it may be an indulgence to return to the subject so soon. However one the consequences of the Yin-Yang firestorm was a side conversation with one of the protagonists that has developed into an interesting theme. He raised the concept of deutero-learning with referfences to Bateson and Argyris & Schon. As explained this is about a “binocular vision” in which both conscious and un-conscious learning take place. My response was to argue that we run the same danger with conscious/unconscious as with other categorisation devices and the two are more intertwined that we thought. The response was to say that such distinction helps people to think about things from different perspectives.

Now this is true, in all human systems, if we do not create boundaries and move across them change is unlikely to happen. In a film the end of a scene is signified by change, a turning point. A boundary enables someone to see an “here we do this”/”here we do that” difference. The Cynefin Framework with its five ontologies was designed to allow this sort of behaviour. However its an open model and a large part of it’s use is to allow all the boundaries to be crossed in both directions at different times and in different contexts.

It is important that we learn to cross boundaries, but vitally important that we do not place ourselves in boxes.

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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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