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Fractals in organisational sense-making - part one

November 19, 2012

Fractals are among the mathematical and artistic wonders of working with complexity.  In general the word means something that is self-similar at different layers of scale, patterns repeat at all levels of scale.  Now aside from the mathematics, the idea of fractals is also relevant to frameworks and models used to act within a complex adaptive system. One of the points I made over the last two days of advanced training in Calgary, and will make at forthcoming courses in London, Seattle and Boston, is that any model or framework used in a complex domain needs to be fractal in structure.

That means that structures used for strategy need to be used for operations and vice versa.  That allows for rapid communication and feedback loops to work within minimal needs for translation.  Most strategy processes work differently from this.  They have abstract models and templates that are translated and communicated.  In the field operations are required to feed the model in a way convenient to the model users from supporting transaction and other systems.  Now you will never completely get rid of this, but the various methods for the social construction of Cynefin allow us to use the same model for strategy and operations.  In order to understand this you probably need to read up on the Four-Points method for Cynefin construction.

OK the narrative definitions will differ by silo and function, but the overall shape remains the same.  That allows me to define something as complex by its exemplar narratives at different levels of the organisation.  Its complex because it looks like these so we do this is the basic principle.  That means different parts and layers of the organisation can use the same framework but with different reference points.

More on this in future posts, but I now have to get a plane from Calgary back to the UK

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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.
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