From communication strategies to emergence

July 5, 2010

The persistence of failed ideas continues to surprise me, and especially in the case of those who claim to embrace complexity approaches to organisational development. A lot of people like the shinny new wine of complexity, but they want to put it in the familiar wineskins of conventional thinking, net effect the wineskins burst.

One of the most persistent handovers from systems dynamics is the belief in full alignment of organisational values, mission statements, strategy etc. Now in practice (and thank God) this has never happened despite a lot of money being spent on it. Pragmatically full alignment means that you have lost all variety in the system and with that adaptive capacity.

Now the opposite is not just to let things go, that is to shift from order to chaos. What we need instead is what I describe as messy coherence, a sense of direction with with requisite diversity. Some of changes we need are:

  • Move from the point where everyone can parrot the same platitudes (sorry clearly describe the common strategy) to the point where common heuristics and metaphors are in play. Metaphor based command languages are one of the most exciting new developments around at the moment and I will blog on them in the near future.
  • Shift from all decisions and actions being aligned with strategy to an environment in which safe-fail experiments constantly challenge the established strategic thinking.
  • Move from ensuring that everyone in the workforce understandings the strategy (a communication approach and fairly typical of the organisational story tellers) to whole of workforce real time engagement in strategic sensing of subtle put important changes in the ecology of the organisation.
  • Start to use supply chain partners and customers in an architected approach which allows the emergence of an ideation based understanding of what is needed and a resilient and reactive capacity to embrace uncertainty rather than reducing it

Now I admit that there are some potential platitudes or ambiguities there, but I’ll expand on the practice and the theory in future posts. For the moment I will try not to rip my remaining hair out in despair at the constantly rolling out of failed and failing ideas by people who should know better.

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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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