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Progressive thinking

November 17, 2006

I have long admired the progressive attitude of Singapore, in particular their understanding of the need to take complexity seriously.

They were early adopters of Cognitive Edge techniques and have continued to supply some of our more interesting challenges and projects. If you spend any time there you know the typical UK and US Stereotypes are arrant nonsense. The Straits Times on 17th November published an interview with Peter Ho, head of the civil service from which I take the following quote.

We need to operate not in a fail-safe mode, but in a safe-fail mode.

‘Fail-safe means no risk, nothing will go wrong. But it means you do nothing. A safe-fail mode is – you try, you manage your risk and make sure that when it fails, if it fails, the risk is mitigated through proper risk management measures.

‘I would say that the biggest mistake we could make in the civil service is the sin of inaction because we fear failure and we fear risk.’

One of the main challenges facing government over the next few decades is to do more with significantly less. The shift from fail-safe to safe fail is one of the most critical changes required, along with a shift from outcome to imact measures, rejecting accounting measures designed for industry not government. At the moment, I think the leadership of Singapore is ahead of the game in thinking about, and acting to achieve significant change in government. The fusion culture is not just confined to Singapore food, but extends to their way of thinking about problems and opportunities. It is this ability to blend different concepts, cultures and ideas into novel and original structures which makes them a truly emergent society, that understands the need to navigate complexity.

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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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