Reflections on the Whistler process

July 16, 2018

Our first retreat of 2018 explored the general area of design and innovation. It took place in Whistler with an outstanding faculty and a lot of participation from the delegates. Combining the event with our first ever Train the Trainer session also produced multiple benefits. In that linked event we took an approach (that may be novel for some) that the trainer should know more than the person being trained! So we assumed people there knew the basics and we focused on going deeper, teaching more of the underlying theory and, in a series of exercises, testing understanding of the application of that theory to practice; understanding the why as well as the how. For the retreat, the theme of design was always there from the initial conception, but the increasing commoditisation of design into the linear process of much design thinking creating a context for the programme. We need to look at a non-linear process, one which engages a wider group of people. We made good progress, and retreats are designed to be cutting edge; the point where theory first interacts with practice. But I ended up a little frustrated that an open process didn’t lead to to methods there and then, although it did lay the ground rules. The other thing that worked well was the Tricopticon process; a half way house between a formal conference and the more unstructured unconference. Well to be more accurate it worked better on Day two when I varied the sequence of events.

For all those who keep emailing me asking when I am going to teach a course again (especially those from Australia and New Zealand) then this is the opportunity. Train the Trainer not only authorises you to run the Foundations Course with our brand, but it is an advanced course on Cynefin in its own right. Coupled with the creation of a complexity based approach to design and you have a golden opportunity here!

I ended up convinced that design needs to be the theme of the remaining retreats for next year. So I reoriented the next one (in Tasmania in a few weeks time) to look at design for resilience, rather than just resilience. The final 2018 event will also be a design for theme around value and change with a more economic bent. I’m going to blog about resilience tomorrow to provide more context. However readers might like to look at the coming retreat. For anyone in Asia Pacific its your local event for this year. For anyone outside of that geography, we know its short notice (work on the merger have taken a lot of my attention the last few months) but it might event be cheaper to fly to Australia for this one and Tasmania is a wonderful site! For anyone in the network who has been through the various foundations courses over the year we have a special bundled price for the Retreat and the Train the Trainer event so leave a comment with your email or contact us by the web site and we’ll let you have a discount code.

I’m really excited by the Tasmania event, and the faculty. The plan is to take a lot of the output from Whistler and focus it on organisational, personal and society resilience. By the end of the session we should have a more fully developed method that attendees will be in a position to take to their organisations or markets – first mover advantage on a whole new approach to distributed ethnography and ideation and provides ongoing benefit to organisations. Finding ways to understand the current nature of the system, its vulnerabilitues and the opportunities for short and longer term innovation will be a focus. Resilience is (in my language) surviving by adaptation and also exaptation; maintaining continuity of identity by managed change. In an uncertain world that is a key skill.

More on the underlying theory and principles tomorrow – but this blog post is an unashamed pitch for you to join us in August for a winter retreat in Tasmania. We’ll also be using Port Arthur to explore aspects of resilience so this will be physical as well as mental in nature.

The opening picture is of a salt march taken by Sarah Foulwetter and used under a creative commons license. A salt marsh works to prevent flooding by changing its character and continues to provide utility even when exhausted. It serves as an illustration of a resilient system. Contrast that with a sea wall, which is robust and has high utility until it breaks. At that point it would be better if it had not been there in the first place. The in text picture is from the Whistler retreat at the train wreck site, where a tragic accident has not created an art work within the forest. At Whistler we looked at the role of aesthetics in design so it was a good field trip. That learning will be taken over into the Tasmania retreat.

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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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