My bit in the Flow Book

November 19, 2020

Screenshot 2020 11 20 at 05 26I’m interrupting the flow of my posts about an anthro-complexity approach to strategy to reference a new book published today from my good friends John, Nigel and Brian.  I’ve been closely associated with their work since Nigel was in Toyota and I have fond memories of extended theoretical discussions, with immediate potential for practice, as we talked through the whole idea of Lean and how it links into complexity and sense-making in general.  Those took place in Nigel’s house in Texas where you are surrounded by one of the best sets of Doctor Who memorabilia I have ever seen!   Brian of course is one of our senior network members and organised out exploratory of the links between OODA and Cynefin this time last year.  John and I are in various conversations about a new MBA and the partnership with North Texas which are looking very interesting and I need to free up time to work on it before month end.

Either way, if you hadn’t realised one of the pillars in the flow system is complexity with Cynefin front and central.  I’ve been involved in reviewing that and it’s been a pleasure to work with the team in creating that element not only in the book but in the associated methods.  As you would expect the book has some significant endorsements (including one from yours truly) and I also wrote one of the forwards.   When I was asked to do that the request was that I add too the content of the book rather than simply talk about it.  So by way of a teaser, this is an extract from that forward.

In anthro-complexity we start journeys with a sense of direction, open to novel discoveries and adaption as the nature of the system we are dealing with unfolds. This is a paradigm shift from the engineering approach that has dominated the last few decades in which futile attempts have been made to eliminate rather than embrace uncertainty. There are some fairly easily understood heuristics of managing in uncertain times and they include:

  1. Centralise co-ordination and constraint management but distribute decision making. You simply can’t control the diversity of decisions that have to be made, and made in shortened timescales so building trust into teams and into process will allow you to do this; co-ordination is the role of leadership and the ability to sense weak signals and quickly allocate resource to where it is most needed.
  2. Communicate by engagement, use your employees and networks as a distributed human sensor network to both increase the diversity of your situational assessment, but also of future scenarios. The familiar platitudes of employee engagement do not apply, if they ever did. Your staff are entangled with the world, your organisation and its future. Like bramble bushes in a thicket attempting to untangle what has emerged over time will simply break things, better to take advantage of its connections – you don’t have to understand all of its many threads to take advantage of the fruit it bears.
  3. Map and manage the constraints in play and understand that enabling constraints can reduce the cost of energy flows within the organisation. Some constraints are Dark, you can see the impact but can’t see the source, some can be changed, others are, at least for the moment a given. Recognise the reality of what you can change and critically where you can monitor the impact of change and rapidly redeploy resources to amplify the good and disrupt the bad.

I look forward to ongoing work with the Flow team and in the meantime go out and buy it!



Banner picture is by Hamish Weir on Unsplash

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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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