Candle burning out

November 1, 2008

In parallel with the practicing of Cognitive Edge methods my interest in music attracted me to the idea of running discos for our local play group and school. As Dave was telling his story of the children’s party I found lots of parallels with my discos which as my final guest blog I would like to share:

The starting conditions for a children’s disco depend very much on circumstance, the time of year or what they had for tea. For a primary school leavers disco they can be particularly excited and burst in on you and begin bouncing off the walls and each other. Play the wrong record at this point and you get showered with peanuts and chewy sweets. This is truly the CHAOTIC domain and I once had the (hilarious at the time) chance to share a hall with Postman Pat who got dragged across the floor and beaten by a pack of five year olds.

It is at these times I would introduce a little turbulence and control in the form of shouting for the head teacher and playing ‘Superman by Black Lace’ which although very childish, usually creates a mild pattern in everyone combing their hair and skiing to the beat.

This second quarter is I believe the COMPLEX domain, I try and read the signals from the numbers up dancing and occasionally introduce attractors such as ‘The Macarena’ or Saturday Night’ which help to create just enough order to make the trouble makers feel a little isolated.

Requests are the big problem. Kids know all the rudest and most dangerous tracks that you as the DJ must never play in a Church of England School. My trick for the third quarter of the night is to send in advance request forms to the school inviting the kids to nominate their favourite party records. This allows me to control the later stages of the night with a ‘top ten’ which controls the flow of requests (“did you put it on your request sheet”) and works as direct feedback to the crowd as they hear what their own unique preferences. You might think this would be a SIMPLE domain solution playing a list of ten requests but it takes an ‘expert’ to veto just which Slipknot, Marilyn Manson and Slim Shady tracks they can be allowed and how best to sequence them to maintain the interest of the whole crowd.

The final quarter is where it gets easy. As the parents begin to arrive there are certain records that I have played at the end of every disco so it has become part of the ritual for them all to join in with ‘Tragedy’, ‘the Grease Megamix’ and finally ‘YMCA’. Truly the SIMPLE domain, anyone could do this bit, just follow the recipe.

As for learning lessons from a negative experience, I once had a granddad collapse part way through the night and as he lay with a crowd around him, I decided the best thing was to lower the tempo and slow down the light sequencer. As the paramedics arrived I changed the record and put on ‘Candle in the Wind’ thinking that it was nice and slow and respectful. All eyes were on me as those immortal lines sang out (long before Lady Diana) about “candles burning out long before ….” It still makes me shudder with embarrassment.

Anyway its been a ball, thanks for all your comments and supportive emails, thanks to Dave et al for the opportunity and I pass on to the next guest …

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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.

Cognitive Edge Ltd. & Cognitive Edge Pte. trading as The Cynefin Company and The Cynefin Centre.


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