Peers, desist!

February 22, 2007

Once apon a time if you wanted advice then you got up from your desk and wandered around talking to colleagues whose opinion you respected. As email become available that extended the range of contacts. Collaboration, the blogosphere have increased the scope of opinions that we can seek out. Our own work on sense-making databases represents a technology based support for what is a natural process: the seeking out of relevant anecdotes that we can blend with our own experience and the current situation in order to find a path forwards. If you had (or have) any sense then you sought out opinions from people who disagreed with you, who would challenge your ideas. Depending on the nature of the problem you might spend a few minutes or hours with different people. Conversation enabled serendipity.

It seems that such natural processes are no longer good enough. Now we have to formalise the process, bring in facilitators, stick to strict time limits and get rid of critical comments, only allowing positive thought. It is called Peer Assist; watch the animation and you will see what I mean. Once you have done that find something else that competent managers have done for years, formalise it, give it a fancy name, commission the animation and you are made. Of course you have now locked down a natural process, you have shifted from resilience to stability.

On a slightly more positive note, you might want to ritualise the ability of anyone to call on other people in the organisation for assistance. We also have a method, ritual dissent which places you in a position to have your cherished ideas taken apart without mercy. I am not necessarily against labels and process, but we can go too far in structure, formality and facilitation.

Now OK, I know the origin of this is in Learning to Fly which is one of the better books on KM, I know the authors, Geoff and Chris and have a lot of respect for their work. I don’t for one minute think that in outlining the method they intended it to be applied rigidly. As I read it in the book they intended the method to be illustrative. The trouble is that you create something like this and the next thing you know people are picking it up and converting it to a recipe. I have seen the same thing with some of my own work, even with people I have worked with for some years. They see something done once, and assume it is a formula rather than a framework.

And yes, I know I have assumed my curmudgeon role, but I am allowed to let it loose form time to time.

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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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