Cynefin21 and the book

November 6, 2020

IMG 0874The first of what will be several piles of Cynefin books arrived today, my priority is to autograph copies for the various contributing authors and a few special people, without whom none of of the work would have been possible.  I’m happy to sign others although the normal conference signing will not be possible in these days of the plague!  However there will be a chance to buy a signed copy on the website shortly, signed and dispatched by yours truly as I get time in the evenings.   With lockdown set in here for the next four weeks, I should get time but the style may be influenced by what I am watching at the time!

The book itself was a surprise although various leaks in the build-up meant I was aware something was up.  There had been a series of Cynefin21 events and I’d been involved in several of them, talking with old friends both remembering the past and thinking forward to the future.  I was asked to write an article on the history of Cynefin using an anecdotal style.  I was given a limit of three thousand words and a strict deadline but ended up a month late and ten thousand words over the limit but it is all there.  Putting that history together, reading the old articles and sorting things into order was fascinating.  Finding the five domain version came out two years earlier than I thought was also a revelation.  It would be invidious to pick out any single author at this time but I plan a series of blog posts over the next few months which will do that.  However, I have to express my gratitude and admiration to Zhen and Sonja who envisaged the idea and got everyone lined up to deliver.  The effort Sue put into creating a consistent style for all the illustrations and her brilliant Cynefin timeline along with Gustav’s design (including an original approach to navigating the content) make it special.  They all had the best herder of cats I have ever met in Marion to make it all happen and how Riva and Boudewijn managed to edit such a diverse range of styles into a coherent whole escapes me.  The fact that Sonja, Elmi, and Ken were building a new website while organising the book and a comprehensive series of Cynefin21 events while keeping the business running is beyond impressive.  I couldn’t get my act together to post here for the whole of October with the level of activity that was going on and I only needed to turn up and talk from time to time!

The whole process has been very moving and you need to realise that the Welsh are a sentimental race so you can imagine the consequences.  All of the Cynefin21 events will be online shortly and available for viewing so we have created an oral history as well as the written artifact.  I’ve lost count of how many times I have talked about how it all got started but the one overriding impression of the various activities is the very real sense of community that has built around Cynefin.  I said in several sessions that one of the things that made me proud was the way the framework had been used by many people and groups to make sense without anyone from Cognitive Edge having to be involved.  My famous back of the table napkin test has worked and making sure that the whole body of Cynefin methods was in the public domain while I worked in IBM was key.  One story stood out, namely, the framework being pasted to the wall of an operating theatre to help make life and death decisions but there were many more.

The diversity of that community is also impressive and one aspect of that diversity is that many of those involved disagree with me in various different ways.  That is reflected in the book itself, although overall the movement is coherent.  I have written a lot of blogs about the idea of coherence (if you clock on Our Thinking on the website it will take you to the new search facility) add I probably need to put them all together.  It is one of the key concepts in the wider field of anthro-complexity and I really need to do a curation job on the blog posts around core themes but that, of course, is for the book, which can now be written.  With the blog posts around St David’s Day this year I finally resolved the last remaining incoherence in Cynefin by renaming disorder as confused and creating the aporetic liminal as a part of that.  Thanks to John van Breda and Zhen Goh for suggesting and expanding on that.  In terms of my own priorities, I am continuing to develop the Apex Predator framework and bringing back into play much of the original material on formal and informal networks and knowledge/decision flow as well as picking up the wider theme of entanglement in both SenseMaker® and the wider method set.  Cynefin reached 21 and we had a party, its use is spreading and the applications will expand, and doubtless, some of the language and use will evolve; theory and practice interweaving.  But there is a lot more to do in defining the wider fields of Naturalising Sense-making and Anthro-complexity.  I always knew, but now I know more clearly, that all of this work is one where I have been more catalyst than a controller (although there are limits) and that my job now is to let down the scaffolding around which the work can develop.  The richness of the various articles in the book and the many other people who have contributed is a source of energy and delight.  And in the world in which we live we need that; to borrow two key phrases from Terry Eagleton (both book titles) we need to understand how to hope, even if we are not optimistic and also engage in radical sacrifice if we are to leave a planet and a society to our descendants.  In that context, I thought I would finish with John Seely Brown’s quote on the cover of the book.

We’ve moved from the age of enlightenment to the age of entanglement where sense-making aided by imagination is now from critical than ever.  This book helps re-orient us to Dave’s critical insights on complexity very beautifully framed by his Cynefin Framework

To everyone who has contributed, including my family who saw too little of me while I was building this movement, my thanks:  “I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like, and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve”.  I’ve always liked the ambiguity of hobbits.

Web site link for Cynefin21 resources

PS:  The banner picture shows the low light of the morning sun as I started to walk ten Wainwrights from Kentmere on Wednesday.  I downed tools and spent two days refilling my soul on the hills before lockdown and was rewarded with great walking conditions and perfect light.  Over nine hours of walking and then a six-hour drive home but it was worth it.  I am only truly at peace in the hills …

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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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