On synthesis

November 22, 2012

Final day of the advanced course in London today, and I wish I had recorded it.  I taught the same content in Calgary earlier in the week, but the second time allowed me a greater degree of synthesis and connections.  I was also deadbeat, having flown in from Calgary, unpacked and packed in a few hours, being diverted by floods and then arrived at my hotel the night before an hour and half later than necessary as the result of confusing Victoria and Albert in the 'nearest DLR' station section of the how to find us section of the hotel's web site.  Somehow, that always seems to produce better articulation the next day which is worrying really!

Its been a characteristic of the last few years on the methods and software side of Cognitive Edge anyway, but it seems to have accelerated in the last year.  The more you teach, read and practice within an overall framework of meaning the more those connections become self-evident and evolve; the more you realise that apparently unconnected methods and tools are far more intermeshed that you at first realised.  That allows a greater simplicity without the penalty of being simplistic.

The other interesting aspect of this, has beeb the realisation that several of the methods I developed almost twenty years ago for knowledge mapping (to take one example), before I really started to investigate complexity theory, showed an intuition of that wider simplicity.  Over the last year I have taken that early mapping approach, refined it with some of the more recent learning then combined it with ABIDE to allow a parallel mapping of both knowledge (through ASHEN) and strategy.  The next step, only a few weeks away if I can free up the time is to allow SenseMaker® to provide an initial map using mass sensing throughout the organisation, automating some of the workshop and investigative techniques of the early methods.

There are two main elements here.  One is the realisation of the importance of praxis (co-evolving theory with practice) over case based research  and secondly the three heuristics of complexity based management I put together some years ago.  Those were to remind you:

  • Use finely grained objects (both information and organisational)
  • Distributed cognition (but not necessary distributed decision making)
  • Disintermediation (removing mediating layers between decision makers and raw data.

Now I might vary those  a little, including modularity in with finely grained objects for example, but they still stand.  They also pass what I will call the Heideggerian variation of the back of a table napkin test for any sense-making framework, mnemonic or list.  I'll leave explaining that to tomorrow's post and I will explore both main elements in the remainder of this month as well as in the coming advanced courses in Seattle and Boston.


Opening illustration from the ever fascinating Gaping Void and its selection is deliberately paradoxical before you ask.

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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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