Pragmatism requires knowledge

May 3, 2017

I’m half thinking of using the daily Gaping Void download to stimulate my posts this month. I may not keep it up, but today’s works well as it also picks up on yesterday’s post. One of the depressing arguments (well less argument than assertion) that defenders of ill thought out methods and frameworks is the suggestion that it really doesn’t matter what the theory says about an approach, good guys will just get on with using what woks and what doesn’t. The assertion extends to accusations of intellectualism or purity (I wrote form the LinkedIn exchange referenced yesterday). This did rather amuse me at the time as the opposite is to lack the application of intellect and be impure in nature.

Now the reality is that we need both. We need the pragmatism that comes with experience and the ability to adapt in context, but we need to understand more that the current what, we also need to understand why if we want to reduce the risk of intervention and increase the probability of success and the ability to scale what happens. The more we know, the more patterns we have to bring into play, the more coherent are integration of those knowledge bases the more able we are to deal with uncertain conditions where there are few precedents and we are encountering novelty.

Now knowledge is not just the application of experience, or codified or structured knowledge. It is also the ability to synthesis that knowledge in a current context, something known as conceptual blending. Seeing unexpected connections, sensing new and unplanned capabilities in existing technologies or even ways of thinking are all part of the rich pageant of human intelligence, but a capability that we are in danger of loosing in a generation of specialists and an education focus on information delivery and retrieval rather than the generation of wider intelligence.

We are dumbing down knowledge to information and elevating it works for me so I will do it again to a a status that is inauthentic at best, dangerous at worst. All those who claim theory has no relevance, or decry the acquisition of abstract knowledge are failing their own potential as well as damaging their clients.

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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.

Cognitive Edge Ltd. & Cognitive Edge Pte. trading as The Cynefin Company and The Cynefin Centre.


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