eleven pipers piping

January 4, 2016

We are probably still in the party theme section of the carol and destined to finish there with a dozen drummers tomorrow. However the Celtic approach references the noisy and shrill Green Sandpiper although why anyone would give that as a gift I can’t see. In some versions (but the number varies) it is cocks a crowing or roosters crowing in polite society. On the religious side we have a retrofit to the eleven faithful disciples which has some possibilities. If you know your New Testament you will be aware that they were a motley crew of sinners who became saints and there is a whole literature on the motivations of Judas. And, of course they were disciples who then became apostles and that journey is an important one. All of this has promise, so for the first and only time in this series I am going to go with the Canadian hymnologist repurposing of the carol and talk about leadership. There are aspects of the story here that are relevant to OD as a practice:


  1. The disciples are recruited from the local community with the odd outsider, and often from marginalised communities (tax collectors etc.)
  2. They are diverse in nature, often fall out and are generally in the process (as the name implies) learning as they follow
  3. They are taught through parables, generally paradoxical in nature
  4. Following the death of the leader they become apostles, they go forth to teach
  5. There were almost certainly more than twelve disciples/apostles including several women who get some or no mention in the Gospels

The underlying theme of these Christmas posts has been the switch to a complex systems perspective from one that is more engineering/mechanical in nature. Treating individuals as bundles of programable competences is inhuman, inauthentic and immoral. Complexity is not immune for this by the way. One of the reasons I am considering anthro-complexity or anthrocomplexity as a name for the overall field I and colleagues have developed over the years is to separate what we do from the de-personalisation of people and (critical this) community to agents that can be modelled; and all to common and growing tendency in complexity work.

Diversion from main theme to make a point

The matrix to the right is an updated version of one I put together with Peter Standbridge many moons ago when I was in IBM for an EU report on knowledge management– neglected then and still relevant now by the way. We also wrote an article on the theme which will give you more of the context. It is a rough classification to make a key point about some of the major trends in management theory. In effect I am arguing (and I will build this in a future post) that Scientific Management (which includes Deming, Ashby and others) has a lot in common with Anthro-Complexity in that they emphasis the augmentation not replacement of human decision making. On the other hand the popular forms of systems thinking and a lot of computational complexity (which includes big data etc. etc.) basically assume you can replace humans with automata of various sorts and types. I’m marking for a future post here, but also making it clear that a lot of complexity work has in effect put put a complexity wrapper around old ideas (the systems thinking guys) or seeking to model the life out of human choice and freewill.

Return to main theme

So returning to our lesson for today (sorry couldn’t resist that given the religious theme). Let’s spell out some OD implications:

So the penultimate post complete. Tomorrow I conclude.

  1. There is a damn site more talent in your organisation that you are aware of and you need to find it, accept the limitations and develop it. Yes there is a role for bringing people in from outside but it will be disruptive (which is why it is useful) but often in unpredictable ways. They is a body of organisational knowledge contained in its social processes and interactions that can only really be manifested by people who have lived that journey.
  2. No one is perfect, there are no ideal models, living with failure and dissent are things that leaders need to learn to do, and fast.
  3. Making things explicit is often a mistake. Parable form stories introduce ambiguity or paradox which makes people think. Good teachers ask questions and only occasionally give answers. Too many competence maps, processes, corporate communication, training etc and ALL case based approaches miss that.
  4. You are measured by what you leave behind, not what you can sustain while you are there.
  5. The whole organisation is dependent on many people, most of whom will not be visible to leadership or to the OD function. You may not find them, but you can see their traces and create an eco-system which will sustain them. Disrupt existing practice at your peril. I need to tell the matron story there, but I will hold that for tomorrow.

An afterthought and connection to the theme. The pied piper stole the children of the town when he was not paid. Falling for the seduction of automation threatens a similar loss for organisations.

So the penultimate post complete. Tomorrow I conclude the series, with the hangover ….

Recent Posts

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.


< Prev

ten lords a leaping

So we have a choice between the ten commandments or a reference to cuckoos. As ...

More posts

Next >

twelve drummers drumming

Any mention of drums brings to mind the truly great Ginger Baker and some fond ...

More posts

linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram