Something there is that doesn’t love a wall

October 20, 2012

If asked for which poems first impressed me at school I would list two.  Crow by Ted Hughes which inspired as rather dark angst written essay that, but for its appalling spelling and grammar, would have won the bardic chair that year in the school eisteddfford.  I quote the judge here and I can still work myself up in too a fury about what might have been if anyone had any knowledge of dyslexia at the time.  The other, as literate readers will have realised on seeing the title of this post is Robert Frost's glorious treatise on the human need to create and break boundaries Mending Wall.  Its refrain Good fences make good neighbours remained with me through the decades as one of those key phrases that return to you at need.

Now boundaries are very important in complexity work as they are one of the few things we can manage and also map.  This post should thus be considered as the latest in the series elaborating aspects of Cynefin.  The latest, on Chaos went up last week.  In the IKM days Cynthia and I played with a range of metaphors to help people both map and design boundaries in workshop exercises.   In the early days I contrasted the Gand Canyon with the Rio Grande.  One can be crossed but at great effort, the other is easily forded but you know your feet are wet.  After that we started using ideas such elastic, permeable, semi-permiable, rigid, fragile.  We contrasted imposed with accidental boundaries and pointed to the role of ritual.  There are lines in the sand drawn as dares, or with authority to create some limits.  The sheer number of metaphors and examples is overwhelming.  

We did distinguish between boundaries (prevent or manage passage) with attractors (you fall into them) when we were doing ABIDE mapping.  Of course we also have the anthropology of boundaries which examines issues such as the effect on cultures of rigidity and porosity of borders.  Issues of purity (so well examined by Mary Douglas in Purity and Danger).  Taboo is a universal in human systems.  Identity and ethnicity depend on boundaries.

My apple trees will never get across; And eat the cones under his pines but nevertheless we meet to walk the line; And set the wall between us once again.  I need to do a lot more work on this so expect more posts over the coming weeks.  I have a half formed typology in mind that I should be able to convert into a new method to link to ABIDE (which itself needs elaboration).  So expect more: questions and ideas welcome by comment or email are welcome


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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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