Purity and danger

March 2, 2010

As ever Gaping Void gets to the heart of a dilemma. When to compromise and when to stand firm. It has been much on my mind lately in relation to a whole variety of issues, including the Cynefin model itself. The pragmatist in me (and I don’t mean philosophical pragmatism) realises that ideas and concepts are never one’s private property, they have a life of their own in the evolutionary maelstrom of human thought. The title of this blog references Mary Douglas’s seminal 1966 work. She examines the way in which ideas of pollution and taboo are used to create boundaries and to define identity.

The point really is one of identity, if something is allowed to mean anything then it becomes meaningless. On the other hand if the purity rituals prevent change then ossification and irrelevance are the inevitable outcome. I don’t have a clear answer to this, but I think there are some principles and they rest around integrity both of the thing itself and the people involved. Plagiarism is a pejorative word that often goes undetected. Its normal meaning to to pass off someone else’s ideas as your own and the rectification is to acknowledge your sources. However its origins in the Latin plagiarus meaning kidnapping gives us another context. Here while acknowledgment may be given the integrity of the original idea is not respected. The language and some of the concepts are taken and used for something totally other, in the hope that they will somehow or other gain respect by association. To be inspired by something, and then create something unique of different, thats fine even laudable. I did that with Cynefin when I was inspired by Boisot’s I-Space. I have always acknowledged that source but I never claimed the I-space space (if you see what I mean. No easy answer, and sometimes the most effective way to deal with lack of integrity in others is to ignore them, but that is difficult when its your creation they are polluting.

The English National Opera produced a wonderful Ring a few years back and Die Walküre was performed to acclaim at the Glastonbury Festival. The interpretation was an interesting one. In the final Act Wotan has cast down Brünnhilde, but then (in a modernistic interpretation) the drug addicts and pimps start to cluster around her. In fear of desecration he calls on Loki to create the ring of fire that will protect her until the arrival of the hero. For any father with an errant daughter (and all daughters are errant at some stage if you respect their freedom) it was almost impossible to watch for the intensity of the portrayal.   

Something which is loved has to be preserved but it must also evolve. Maybe at the end we are with John Donne : On a huge hill, Cragged and steep, Truth stands, and hee that will Reach her, about must, and about must goe (from The Progresse of the Soule)

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About the Cynefin Company

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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