The classification tango

December 4, 2010

tangoOutline.gifThe heading of this post is an indirect reference to the incomparable Tom Lehrer’s The Masochism Tango; listen before proceeding. Now the distinction between classification and relationships as ways of making sense of the world is a long standing one. I previously posted on the cow-chicken-grass test which appears to divide anglo-saxon cultures from the rest of the world. Classification is inherently attraction to a modernist age, seeing to place things in boxes. The attractiveness is that is creates an “if this then that” type action process. The danger is the confusion of boxes with boundaries. Boundaries allow us to create differences as we transit or approach them, boxes on the other had are confining, static and limiting.

Now I see this a lot with the Cynefin framework, oh so many people interpret it as a two by two matrix. They forget about the criticality of dynamics, the catastrophic boundary between order and chaos and the domain of disorder which is transitory in nature. Its also common for nonsense to fill a vacuum. Chaos is an unconstrained state, so it is a priori transitionary. However a number of people who pick up the model translate Chaos into unknown and put things like social networks into the space (Social networks are complex, they are partically constrained even when informal). They want something in each of the domains (which they generally draw as boxes). In fact Chaos and Disorder are both transitory states, Simple, Complicated and Complex exhibit coalescent stability. The framework is impoverished when people do this, but its understandable. Occasionally it gets taken to nonsensical levels (see my Origins of Cynefin for an example) and I react, most of the time I live with it as its well intentioned and understandable. Mind you it does from time to time result in me, or the innocent perpetrator requiring twenty metaphorical stitches.

A major part of this is the common place rejection of what I call necessary ambiguity. That is a theme I will return to on Wednesday; I can then conclude the aging workforce series. For the next few days I am on a brief holiday involving a scenic tour of the fog bound west coast of Ireland, and I have a cold. So beauty will be tempered with suffering but I will post on each day’s events ….

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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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