Causal effect through engagement

April 14, 2015

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We’re finally there with Culture Scan but its too late here in New York for me to put together a fairly lengthy post and explanation so it will go up tomorrow late evening New York time.  I flew out this morning for the Lean UX conference where I have the opening keynote on Thursday.  I’m planning to tackle ‘Design Thinking’ head on from a complexity perspective.   Arguing that an artisan capability has been converted into a production process at considerable loss to the whole idea of design.  It will be recorded and podcast.   It links with another article from the Boone-Snowden stable which is under preparation at the moment.  The desire for linearity which is the essence of process approaches is disturbing given that nature is entangled and human nature both entangled and entwined!  But when people try and scale anything that has worked, without taking future craft workers through a proper apprenticeship, we seem to always end up with an engineering drawing rather than a geological map.  I choose geology deliberately as the early maps had inherent uncertainty or inference of direction built into them.

The same issue came up in a conversation of dinner tonight when the argument was advanced that a feedback loop made the process non-linear which from my perspective is mistaken.  A feed back loop that is drawn on anything remotely resembling a flow chart is not complex of itself, it is an attempt to claim complexity for an ordered approach.  Thinking of dispositions and propensities requires a mental leap but once made life gets a lot easier.   You realise you are dealing with (to quote Juarrero who speaks after me) bramble bushes in a thicket.  Intertwined, separate but inseparable, discoverable only by engagement and above all not repeatable in effect by virtue of their nature, only by accident or influence.

The latter point is important.   I’ve long used the magnet metaphor to illustrate that a complex system is modulated not driven.   Of recent months I have also made the point that if you can control some of the modulators in real time you can influence the way in which the system evolves by constant intervention and feedback from an image of the system as a whole.   You try something and change it based on a system level consequence.    We are good at navigating complexity in real time – its how we walk down a street or ride a bike.   The secret is to engage based on as much knowledge as you can gain of the system as a whole and by building mapping capability that allows you to do that in an effective and timely manner.  A more elaborate version of How do we make sense of the world so we can act in it which carries with it a sense of sufficiency but not completeness.

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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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