Cynefin: death of Sir Kyffin Williams

September 3, 2006

The first time I used the word Cynefin in print was in 2000 when I referenced one of the greatest artists of the modern period, Kyffin Williams. The article states:

Cynefin (pronounced cun-ev-in) is a Welsh word with no direct equivalent in English. As a noun it is translated as habitat, as an adjective acquainted or familiar, but dictionary definitions fail to do it justice. A better, and more poetic, definition comes from the introduction to a collection of paintings by Kyffin Williams, an artist whose use of oils creates a new awareness of the mountains of his native land and their relationship to the spirituality of its people: “It describes that relationship: the place of your birth and of your upbringing, the environment in which you live and to which you are naturally acclimatised.” (Sinclair 1998). It differs from the Japanese concept of Ba, which is a “shared space for emerging relationships” (Nonaka & Konno 1998) in that it links a community into its shared history – or histories – in a way that paradoxically both limits the perception of that community while enabling an instinctive and intuitive ability to adapt to conditions of profound uncertainty. In general, if a community is not physically, temporally and spiritually rooted, then it is alienated from its environment and will focus on survival rather than creativity and collaboration.

I read today on the BBC web site that he died of cancer at the age of 88 in his native Anglesey. This has a ironic twist for me as this Wednesday I will scatter the ashes of my parents who died of cancer within a fortnight of each other two years ago, both of whom lived on Anglesey.

I have always loved the work of Kyffin Williams who encapsulated the landscape and culture within which I grew up. This is a small tribute to his genius, and his influence on a key aspect of my work. The Oriel Ynys Môn Gallery has a web site where you can see examples of his work.

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About the Cynefin Company

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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