Design thinking & complexity pt 3

October 5, 2013

In my last post in this series I argued for managed exaptation as a method to avoid premature convergence.  I argued by implication that traditional design thinking prematurely converges on a requirement with is then throw over the wall the creatives to ideate a solution.  Thanks for the all the comments by the way.  I am reading them but will reply to them all at the end of this series.

Now anyone familiar with this blog will know that exaptation has been a key theme within Cognitive Edge since I spent time with a bunch of interesting people on Lake Garda some years ago along with more detailed discussions at the University of Durham.  The picture here shows one classic example, the development of feathers for sexual display and warmth that exapts to flight.  The links take you to several posts on the subject so if you are not familiar with the word then I suggest a quick read.

Brian Arthur makes the point in his book on evolution of technology, that modularity is necessary for exaptation to take place,  The magneto not the radar creates the micro-wave oven.  nbsp;In Cognitive Edge language for modularity read granularity.   My overall point is that the linear process I described in the first post in this series gets the granularity wrong; it requires too much chunking before the ideation phase.

So how to we manage for exaptation?  Well one approach we teach when we describe the use of safe-to-fail experiments on day one of the accreditation programme.  Key is the creation of a portfolio of experiments at least some of which should be naive in nature.  That means sending in anthropologists to look at cultural issues rather than OR consultants, or biologists to look at engineering problems.  This is a non-linear process as it is multiple small interactions over time from which a novel solution emerges.  Only once a pattern emerges should you move it into a more formal process: the complex to complicated shift.

In more advanced uses then SenseMaker® comes into its own; no apologies for mentioning it by the way, we designed SenseMaker® to satisfy the needs of the ideas so it should be no surprise. The picture below is one I have used a lot and it’s a part of the above-mentioned course.  Here user requirements or customers experiences are captured as fragmented narratives on a continuous basis over time. In parallel ideas, technologies (in the case of health and well being, diets & therapies) are also captured.  Both are self-interpreted at the point of origin.

With this we can mash the databases together to create three classes of cluster:

  1. Customer stories or needs that have some form of abductive link or connection with capabilities.  These stimulate human agents to come up with novel or new ideas.
  2. Needs that have no associated capabilities, where you should may need to redirect investment.
  3. Capabilities with no needs and one has to question investment

Of course that it not just a one-off design process, it can be that but it can also be continuous, evolving and representing of options.  The picture illustrates this and I will pick up on other aspects in the next post in what is becoming a lengthy series.

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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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