The Children’s Party

November 1, 2007

It’s 11:00 pm on October 31st here in Connecticut. I’ve just finished hosting a party that started at 6 pm for approximately 60 people (about 30 adults and 30 kids). My posting will be brief because I’m exhausted from putting my sugar-charged 4 year old to bed, and then running around picking up glow sticks, half eaten chocolate candy, full juice boxes, broken plastic toys, small pieces of potato chips and discarded skeleton necklaces.

I just want to thank Dave Snowden for his children’s party metaphor to illustrate complexity principles. Thanks to him, it was a fabulous party. Here’s how I planned for it…

First of all, I set up stations as likely attractors – a variety of toys and games spread around the house for the kids to discover. And I had two treasure hunts – one for 5 and under and one for 6 and up. Very simple rules for 6 and up: 1) It’s collaborative, not competitive – contents of the treasure box were to be shared equally and kids were required to stay together. 2) You have to carry a flashlight or walk with someone who has one and 3) You have to go in order of the clues. For the 5 and under set, it was even simpler: You have to find the 6 skulls with money in them before you look for the treasure chest. (This last rule was a probe implemented spontaneously upon discovering that it took about 3.5 seconds for the 4 year olds to figure out where the treasure chest was.) Success was measured by numerous cries of “We’re rich!!!”

Everything went swimmingly until the big kids finally found the treasure chest. When they returned to the house with the chest, I didn’t see any money. I explained to them that I had put $50 in $1 bills in the chest. Then I got to see a real attractor in action: they cleared the house in literally 4 seconds to go and see if they had dropped it by mistake. The horrible truth was that some teenagers apparently found it before they did and stole the money. I had several straight-faced reports from 6 and 8 years olds of sightings of teenaged trick-or-treaters sporting the skeletal bone necklaces that were identical to those in the treasure chest – clearly suspicious activity. Unfortunately, attractors go both ways. Oh well, next Halloween maybe I’ll put an empty box there to attract the teenagers.

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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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