January 12, 2009

Greetings from snowy Truckee, California (just north of Lake Tahoe high in the Sierra Nevada).

In the spirit of providing a little context about who I am, I was pondering the strange journey that has led me to serving as a Cognitive-Edge guest blogger.

My wife and I first encountered Dave and the Cynefin framework at the September 2005 Global Forum SOL conference in Vienna. It was a huge conference in an awe inspiring setting, Vienna’s Museums Quartier. The lavish event had a pronounced tone of a spiritual retreat replete with session presenters preparing tea in exquisite personal teapots while they reflected on organizational issues. I don’t recall anyone wearing robes, but you know what I mean. The reflective ambiance was soothing, but to us it lacked the pragmatic focus necessary to help us make a difference when we were tackling organizational effectiveness issues.

For Doreen and I, the impact of Dave’s keynote address was like a fog lifting from an otherwise dreary winter day. Dave’s rendition of the teaching story about planning a children’s party totally hooked us. We had been wrestling with organizational performance issues in one context or another for over a decade with less than satisfying results. Dave’s take on complexity and cognitive science brought what had been fuzzy into full focus and seemed like it would have practical utility. The juxtaposition of Dave’s vivid practically focused keynote content to the other feel-good speakers on the conference’s speaker roster added to the distinction.

As a human resources professional in the high-tech manufacturing and healthcare industries, I had been focusing on organizational effectiveness for awhile but recognized we weren’t make an enduring difference. Eager to learn more about the C-E approach I attended a series of accreditation sessions—one at the University of Greenwich in 2006 (London is seriously cold in March), and another in Calgary in 2007 with a group of colleagues (I found Alberta is damn cold in February). Since then I’ve supported several other accreditation events and started applying the tools and techniques to client organizations. I also had the good fortune of bringing Dave and Michael Cheveldave into an intervention, which added to my learning.

To round out my bio, I have simultaneously been working toward my Ph.D. through Fielding Graduate University. My research focus is how people make meaning of participating in a deliberate sense making process. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to collect my data during the “Future of Volunteering” project managed by Viv Read and Chris Fletcher in New South Wales, Australia. (pleasantly not cold in February) To add a little complexity to our lives we have spent the last two years building our home up in the mountains. It’s turned out to be a lot more hands-on than we anticipated (more on that later).

Speaking of Fielding, we just completed our annual Winter Session down in Santa Barbara. One of our guest presenters was Etienne Wenger. He gave an interesting presentation and conducted a workshop around his evolving social perspective of learning. He links identity (who we are becoming), community (where we belong), practice (what we are doing) and meaning (our experience) into a new framework of learning, and it serves as an alternative to the industrial model of learning production. He spoke about the implications of the world already being colonized by communities of practice and the criticality of brokers bridging the boundaries between those CoP’s at both the formal and emergent informal levels. He explained that he sees knowledge as practice (sounds a lot like Stacey’s view of knowledge as being an “active process of relating”) and that horizontal learning (peer to peer) is key to capacity development. He framed this notion as what he described as the responsibility of learning citizenship. I found his perspective on learning and communities of practice useful and quite compatible with C-E principles. Well more on Etienne and other topics later….

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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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Interesting application of the Cynefin framework.

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