Symbiosis: the back story

November 2, 2013

I've had a few questions recently as to whether Cognitive Edge is a software company, a consultancy group or a training organisation.  I've been reluctant to accept pigeon holing as I have argued for many years that the service sector needs to break away from crude categories.  In fact I think we are part of something new which is more an ecology of different capabilities within a defining architecture.  I want to start exploring that here and in another post tomorrow, the latter will pick up on my earlier posts on complexity informed approaches to design thinking.  Bear with me as I take you through my own journey here.

My first general management role was in building decision support systems.  Initially for financial management and then for stock forecasting and inventory management.  We had little investment, using client sales to drive capability and were dependent on feeding from and to larger transaction systems.   At one management conference I created a slide with a picture of Lichen and argued that we were the first of a breed of symbiotic software products.  Now using words like symbiosis gained me a certain reputation as ​the thinking woman's thinking person (You may need to be British of a certain age to get that one) as one sales manager famously said.  But I was running the most profitable unity in the company at the time so I could ride the anti-intellectualism especially as a lot of it was affectionate.  Lichen will also be the picture theme for this series.

While I was with DataSciences I created the Genus programme which wove together object orientation, legacy system management and RAD/JAD development.  My argument then is that our role was to weave together apparently disparate things to create a clear and coherence narrative for customers.  Now that programme was successful, it pioneered a new approach to services branding and was one of the main drivers on the DataSciences turn around that made us attractive to IBM.  In fact I was told after the IBM acquisition that it was one of the main reasons for the purchase, although I took that with liberal helping of Lot's wife.  I think it was more to do with target driven behaviour and a quick acquisition is a good way of making your numbers using another budget!

The OO element of Genus was important and had several key elements:

  1. A library of objects that would be used on our own projects
  2. An open version of that library to which other third parties could contribute and use
  3. Object wrapping of legacy systems
  4. Rapid prototyping (this was pre-Agile and one of the DSDM foundations) of solutions for users rather than applications to specification
  5. Supporting training and materials

I remember when I was first introduced to OO by Tony Mobbs (on a canoe on the Wye Valley in some trust exercise but that is a story for another day) one my first question/statements was but people are objects too aren't they?  Now that was important for what came afterwards and for what Cognitive Edge is today or rather what Cognitive Edge can become; more on that tomorrow.



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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.

Cognitive Edge Ltd. & Cognitive Edge Pte. trading as The Cynefin Company and The Cynefin Centre.


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