Portfolios of pragmatism

November 8, 2012

Day three of KM Asia and I have a half day seminar on Agile and KM to run.   Its well attended which is good news, but when I check everyone wants to talk about strategy not Agile or IT so I need to do a hasty switch of material.  Given the general interest I decided to elaborate on Cynefin and also expand a bit on the new sub-domain models for the complex and chaotic domains.   I don't know about others but a lot of the original developments and refinements of ideas and models come to me through teaching.   The whole P-S-R etc aspects of Cynefin came in a brief presentation as recounted in the History of Cynefin article to take one example.  

The same happened today when I set an example and the old betamax example came up when I was presenting the complex sub-domain model.  I realised then that what I had thought was just for decision making represented something more.  If in a market you have two or more solutions that are equally coherent (technically do the job) then the strategic focus should be on consensus (gaining market share) not competing with improved technology per se.  I need to revisit both sub-domain models from the previous posts as both the representation and some of the messages have been changing.  But that is for another day and I want to complete the Complicated and Simple first.

The point I was trying to make throughout the half day was that knowledge management needs to orientate itself towards intractable problems faced by the organisation.  Such problems are more or less inevitably about the complex or chaotic domains so knowing where you are and where you want to head are important.   In order to emphaisise this I decided to run through an approach to mapping knowledge objects to organisational issues, and an associated portfolio approach to knowledge management.

Very simply such an approach argues against grand strategy and focuses instead on strategy as a balanced set of pragmatic projects with clear focus on current issues.  I've done the same sort of thing in wider strategy assignments where the principle is to define actions in the present rather than idealised future goals.  Ok once that is done you may write up the traditional form just to keep people happy, but the reality of strategy is in action.

This approach, developed before I really got into complexity, follows the three heuristics as follows:

  • Finely grained objects: discrete focused projects
  • Distributed cognition: projects produced in situ with workforce
  • Disintermediation: Decision makers have direct access to project proposals

Full set of slides here, but mark the health warning.  I plan to work this up in more detail as one of the new method assemblies for premium content members and also to teach it in Calgary, London, Seattle and Boston between now and Christmas which should solidify any ambiguities.  I've also run this a few times as an in house programme linked to a project and I want to increase the numbers of practitioners in our network able to do that.  Hence including it in the advanced courses.

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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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