Post hoc ergo propter hoc

November 9, 2009

I had dinner with Max Boisot a couple of weeks ago. Max is one of few remaining polymaths in this world and any conversation with him inevitably ends with one leaving with a reading list and a sense of guilt. Now post the last Academy of Management I been involved in a series of conversations. SenseMaker™ attracted interest as a new research tool, but also (and possibly of greater importance) was the potential link to power law mathematics, with their focus on outlier events. More on that as we get ready for the next meeting of the Academy in Montreal next August.

One point that Max made, was that we were taking an abductive approach to social systems. For those not familiar with the term, it was created by the pragmatist philosopher Peirce and describes an approach in which one considers a series of apparently unrelated events based on the suspicion that they might be connected. It is in effect a process of hypothesis creation. To complete the picture deduction is the process of saying that something is a consequence of something else based on the truth of the original assumptions; induction is inferring a particular quality from multiple instances or cases and is probably the most common approach.

One of the longstanding issues here is the potential logical fallacy (see title and look it up for yourself!). However if we take multiple instances (as we do in micro-narrative capture) and we use distributed cognition (multiple individuals interpret items ) then we create a very different and interesting approach, enabled by technology. Someone else described out work as distributed ethnography which I also like. The distributed nature allows the method to scale, while deploying the ethnographer’s capability to see beyond the conventional. Ideas welcome, I am working on a more academic description of SenseMaker™ at the moment, this is a part of that. Its also nice to be bringing the pragmatists back into the swing of things, I remember being derided for using Dewey in an argument during the 1970’s in a philosophy department over obsessed with analytics.

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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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