On being a disruptive technology……

March 15, 2010

As I am nearing my 40th year of self employment, being a disruptive technology is a helpful notion – especially for those who have wondered for many years what it is I exactly do!

Over the years I have tried a variety of ways to provide an answer – while ‘free range feral’ appealed to me at one time, it probably would not have engendered confidence in potential employers. Charles Handy used the term ‘portfolio worker’ to describe people whose life was a mix of activities, paid and unpaid. While this provided a veneer of respectability for the somewhat unemployable, it still did not answer the question. I finally reverted to’ I do stuff’ – some of which I get paid for’.

So it was with a great sense of relief when I first encountered Dave, and the Cynefin framework in 2003 and discovered a way of describing and revelling in being disruptive – not for its own sake, but with purpose and intent. Disruption is a life long theme for me… something which came naturally and was unable to be tamed. Now I had a way of describing it.

I have been fortunate over my working life to have had a number of natural complexity workers as mentors, colleagues, champions and bosses. I am not sure who was the attractor – but the attractions certainly served me well in providing opportunities in workplace reform, leadership development, public administration, community activism, organisation and community development. – in Australia and Asia. Looking back I know that many of my efforts would have benefited greatly from having the framework – to explain to myself and others what we were doing and why.

Embracing all aspects of disruption, the impact and consequences, both planned and unplanned seems to me to be an important part of being a Cognitive Edge practitioner. The tools and methods – and underlying philosophies – are disruptive to those who use it and those who it is used upon. As a practitioner I am constantly engaged in selecting which tools and processes to use, the level of disruption that might be tolerated, and when to ‘back off’. It is some of these issues that will form the basis of my reflections over the next 2 weeks.

The tensions of implementation were explored recently with a group of practitioners in Melbourne including…

* What are fundamental philosophies and values embedded in Cognitive Edge tools that cannot be compromised – without compromising the outcome?

* What are the core capabilities needed by facilitators and participants to effectively engage in disruption?

* When does the facilitator walk away from a process or assignment?

* How much resistance is too much resistance?

More on this in a day or so.

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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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