August 28, 2007

This past weekend my wife and I along with the help of our retired fathers and our very capable building contractor surveyed our new property and positioned the foundation of our new home. In a couple weeks our building crew will be starting on the project so we needed to clearly stake the perimeter of the house on our property. We are excited and nervous at the same time. Part of the process of positioning the house on the property is to map out elevations where the home will be situated. As you can see from the picture the property is quite flat even though we are surrounded by mountains. The elevation changes are minimal around the building envelope, but even small changes can have impacts on landscaping, basement window placements, entrance considerations, etc.

Taking elevations reminded me of reading contour maps when I was younger when we hiked mountain streams and lakes with my father and friends on fishing trips. Having grown up in the mountains here in British Columbia one gains an appreciation and understanding of contours and landscape variation. Landscapes and their 3D surface plots provide a good metaphor for organizational situations and insights. This past year I was introduced to landscape representation by Cognitive Edge and how they can be created using organizational stories held in narrative databases.

By working with different axes definitions in landscape views in SenseMaker Explorer and Modeler, one can create landscape representations for a wide range of organizational situations and contexts. A common approach is to use a stability (or instability) indicator for the Z-axis and try different X and Y axes over a range of available defined scales – aka filters (i.e. perception of leadership, workload, accountability, etc.). In this sense thinking back to when I read contour maps for hiking, a cultural landscape might show me where stabilities or instabilities exist relative to a collective employee group’s perception of a newly introduced corporate direction. Steep terrain with lots of variation presents instabilities and varying perceptions whereas plateaus present easy walking or stable contexts. Contrasting landscapes defined by cultural indicators can show cultural differences between two companies that have or are about to merge. In a merger and acquisition situation, the differences and similarities in cultural landscapes may indicate where synergies for accelerated integration exist and where strong differences should be managed carefully to preserve necessary diversity and to ensure retention of employees. Remembering that points creating a narrative landscape are most commonly defined by employee stories, stability points around key topic areas might offer leadership teams insights for structuring key communications that have a good chance of striking a desired resonance with a broad employee base.

The landscape view and modeling capabilities of Cognitive Edge’s SenseMaker software offering are quite new and understanding their full potential is still evolving. My initial work with it with different narrative data sets is proving to be very promising. But then again having grown up in the mountains of BC perhaps landscapes with mountains and valleys is second nature to me. Time and use will determine if this representation works well for teams within organizations working with narrative and Cognitive Edge’s SenseMaker tools.

By Michael Cheveldave

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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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