Don’t mention the Lichen

February 6, 2013

As I returned to the car from Castell-y-bere last Friday the beech trees on the side of the hill were covered with Lichen.   With the evening light it gave an eerie, almost sinister feeling and I involuntarily quickened my pace.  Given the way the mind works, well the way my mind works anyway, it triggered a memory of a presentation three decades ago and then a linked to my post of yesterday on co-evolution.  I suppose I had better unstitch all of that!  

Back then, in Data Sciences days I was in my first General Management position and responsible for a decision support business and MURCO a stock forecasting and inventory management system.  Both systems relied on transaction systems to feed them and to receive their output.   I had to explain them to the Divisions sales conference, the members of which were not known for their tolerance of intellectuals or long descriptions.  Now I was young and naive back then so I thought a simple biological metaphor would serve my purpose.  So I got a transparency (yes it is that long ago) made up with a picture of a lichen.  Now a lichen is a symbiotic formed from a fungus and an algae and they survive in a very wide range of habitats.  

My argument was that my business unit supplied symbiotic software that augmented or complemented the larger transaction systems they were used to selling and would differentiate the divisions overall offerings.  This seemed to work so I got a little carried away and talked about how symbiotes all start as parasites which was a mistake, mentioning asexual reproduction was beyond a mistake, it was foolishness.  I don't think I ever lived it down, although I was treated with some affection.  Probably because I was running the most profitable business unit in the division at the time; I was not taken behind the proverbial bike sheds and beaten up as a swot but was instead designated boffin.  You may have to be British to understand that one.  The following year I was referenced by the CEO as The thinking womans, thinking person which was, I think, a compliment although I was interrogated as to it's meaning by my wife that evening.  It was the annual bash and spouses were present, we had even started off with a journey to the South Coast in the Orient Express – those were happier and richer times.

Sorry I am rambling, the point of this is to open up the idea of symbiosis to go with co-evolution as a way of thinking about a service relationship.  I'd better start with that tomorrow; without any more preamble.

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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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