Reflexions I: The Model (continued)

February 23, 2010

More loose, unstable thoughts that need their own contextualization.

What’s most interesting to me about the Cynefin model is that it marries four ways of looking at the world that are usually thought to be incompatible. (Per Ron’s comment, I’m not ignoring Disorder, just treating it separately.) With their biases for perception and action, people are likely to have blind spots for the others that cause them to misinterpret, not just miss the signals.

So when most people say “order” I think they mean “under control.”Anything not under control is chaos, and real control freaks are likely to include anything under someone else’s control in their interpretations.

Take Haiti, which most people consider to be a chaotic place. This was how people saw it before the earthquake because government and international aid agencies were unable to render assistance and alleviate suufering. In fact, criminal gangs had most neighborhoods under their control—at least as far as being the dominant constraints on emergent social patterns. The distinction becomes clear when the earthquake wipes out almost all structures (in both the social and literal senses) regardless of whose control they were under and genuine Chaos takes over.

I use this example with painful misgivings. After a trip to Port au Prince last May to research formal and informal knowledge sharing in the UN Peacekeeping Mission there (MINUSTAH), I demonstrated and explained the Cynefin model to the KM team and best practice officers from peacekeeping missions all over the world.

“Think of an embolism,” I said, as an example of the kind of random event that throws a system into chaos. “Or an earthquake.”

Eight of those I interviewed in Haiti were lost January 12th.

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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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