Culture 7 of 7: Completion

December 24, 2018

When I started this series I said I was going to follow the metaphor of creating a painting with a twist at the end. Well its Christmas Eve and once I’ve completed this post I’m shutting down to start cooking for Christmas and start thinking about the ethics series after a G&T and a few glasses of wine. I’ve signalled the twist over the last couple of posts but to make it explicit: the object of any change programme is to ensure that there never needs to be another one. In effect the programme should not complete per se, but instead shift to continuous micro-changes and short cycle feedback loops that characterise a complex eco-system. The goal of any intervention should be to create a system which is resilient – by which I mean something which is able to achieve continuity of identity over time. The only reason to run a change programme is if the system has become ossified, lacking feedback/response systems, and the goal of such a programme break the blockages, make sure the keystone species are healthy and the waters run clear.

The images I chose for this final blog are of the Vasa, taken on a recent visit to Stockholm. For those who don’t know the story what was meant to be a state of the art warship sank on its first trip on the 10th August 1628. Her powerful armament contributed to what was already a top heavy design and her life span was limited to some 1,500 meters of sailing. I used a lifeboat as the in text image and the overal significance of the choice should be self-evident.

So to pull this series together lets summarise some key points

  1. A cultural change initiative is a device of last resort, it means you’ve failed to maintain a sustainable resilient system and have to do some type of reset
  2. All initiatives start with mapping the here and now, understanding the ideation patterns and meaning making capability of the organisation – they don’t start with a set of platitudes about how things should be.
  3. Changes to the system involve mapping and changing constraints, ideally experimentally with rapid amplification of success and dampening of failure.
  4. Fractal change is achieved by the engaging question How do we create more stories like these and fewer stories like this. That engagement is at the level of the groups capability to act in the short term – its not about talking about what other people should do.
  5. Culture is manifested in what we do, not what we say about why we want to do things. One action that appears hypocritical to espoused values will result in a myriad of negative water cooler stories that will be difficult to counter.
  6. Culture operates within natural constraints, it can’t be designed or engineered, it arises from multiple small interactions over time and it is manifested in the day to day anecdotes of those who we work with and who we work for.
  7. Never ever attempt to design an end product, instead choose the type and nature of the scaffolding you will construct and see what emerges

More on this in the new year, linked to a new set of tools and methods that we will launch.

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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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