For St Davids Day

March 1, 2010

In 1998 my parents gave me a book for a Christmas present. It was the 80th year of the life of the now deceased Welsh Artist Kyffin Williams. To celebrate it Gomer published The Land and the Sea containing examples of his landscape work. I have admired Kyffin’s work from when I first saw a portrait commissioned from him, of a much loved headmaster a quarter of a century earlier. He is an artist who has a profound understanding of place, both in his landscape work and his formal and informal portraits of the people of his native land, the Brythonic Kingdom of Gwynnedd which dominated what is now Wales from the 5th to the 13th Century. The Romans knew it as Venedotia or the land of Venus and I had the privilege to grow up, walking its hills and sailing on its coast. To sit on the summit of Tryfan as the sun descends over the Glyder ridge and Y Garn, casting shadows onto the precipitous slopes of Pen yr Ole Wen is a profound experience, not just of the aesthetic beauty of the landscape, but of one’s place, one’s identity, one’s place of belonging. There is a welsh word, Cynefin which means all of that and more and has no equivalent in the English language where it is crudely translated as habitat or place. In his preface to the book Nicholas Sinclair connects the word Cynefin to the interaction between man and his environment that is the essence of the work of Kyffin Williams. I took that word as the name for a model created to understand the different types of system within which we operate: ordered, complex and chaotic.

Place is not just a physical construct; a sense of place evokes a personal and collective response to something which is highly experiential, concrete and yet abstract. Something that situates lives, enables meaning and instantiates identity. In the modern world, with the ability to link and connect across space, if not time, with people and places with whom we had no physical contact. The question of place, of situated identity is a complex one that makes meaning a problematic word and challenges many of the conventions of marketing.

From the introduction to a book chapter on Place Marketing which I am currently completing

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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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