Change, urgency, and new opportunities 2: What can we sense together?

January 7, 2021

It is 2021, and many of us don’t know quite what that entails. Most were very glad to see the back of 2020, and many colourful, expletive-filled goodbyes were said. As this happened, I and many others reminded ourselves that 2021 will be just as difficult, if not even more demanding. What a moment then to introduce new things! Can we still muster the energy to think about them? To me, the answer has to be “more than ever”. One of the reasons the transition from ’20 to ’21 has been so challenging is that we still don’t know what it all means. Have we learnt anything? Can we do better?

Back in June (before the vaccine! Before Brexit! Before two new super-transmissible strains! Before my own country well and truly lost the ball on controlling the pandemic!) I wrote a blog post outlining our intentions for the climate change programme and the role I see it playing in the explorations of the COVID landscape. As I write these words now, I think I am feeling less optimistic. I fear (perhaps unreasonably) that the new pathways the pandemic is creating are cracks opening right under our feet. I fear opportunities lost and abandoned as the profits of billionaires soar. I want to be wrong, and I hope that the combined effect of hundreds of stories and voices will prove me wrong. Regardless of the level of threat or opportunity (or indeed neutrality), the exploration itself is as urgent as it ever was.

As 2020 wrapped up, so did out Acorn Study. Hundreds of people participated, and a couple hundred also requested and received direct access to the results. As this was ongoing, we resisted presenting a thorough report to avoid influencing people looking at the incoming data on their own. Now, however, we would like to share more of what we saw with a larger group of you, while experimenting with new formats.

At the same time, we are officially launching the next stage of the programme, and the first of at least three MassSenses to run during the year. A MassSense is a particular way of using SenseMaker: instead of asking people to share and then interpret an experience or an anecdote from their lives, you instead present something to interpret – one artefact, multiple perspectives. The more diverse the eyes you get on it, the more aspects of the situation and nuances to the landscape you can uncover. To no one’s surprise, this particular MassSense will focus on COVID-19.

I hope that the MassSense offers an opportunity for reflection, a structure our thoughts can grab on to and grow around in this strange moment. As with the Acorn Study, our new MassSense will be open to anyone’s contribution; please share your interpretations and pass on to as many people as possible. You can see details on the data on the first page of the collection, so I will not repeat them here. Let’s look towards the future together.



Banner photo by Ruslan Alekso from Pexels

In-text photo by Dobromir Hristov from Pexels


Dear Reader, while we have your attention: we are on a determined drive to expand our network around the world. We’re certainly living in uncertain times (sic), and we believe that it will take a large collective of like-minded people to help organisations and societies navigate stormy waters, make sense of the world and make good decisions. Consider joining the Cynefin Network by clicking on the banner below. Links to eBook and paperback copies of our latest book are also available on this page.

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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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