The market is at a tipping point

December 8, 2006

It has been encouraging over the last few weeks through a series of conference and client presentations to see a more realistic, nay a naturalistic approach growing in market respectability. Knowledge management practitioners seem to find it easier to get corporate buy in for narrative and social computing approaches. In a range of marketing companies we are seeing growing interest in pre-hypothesis research. HR directors are looking for alternatives to questionnaire approaches to employee satisfaction surveys and cultural mapping. The idea of moving from fail-safe, to safe-fail strategies, allowing experimental approaches to strategy is also gaining credence.

One of the reasons for this change is that the more conventional approaches are revealing their limitations and have only partly delivered on their early promise. Organisations are also getting wise to the fad cycle. But its not just negative reasons, I also think it represents an increasing recognition that we have to provide more services and capability with increasingly limited resource. That is not going to be achieved other than by thinking in a radically different way as existing methods are resource intensive. In this respect naturalistic approaches to sense-making are one of the few games in town. By seeking to stimulate emergence, reinforcing good patterns and disruption bad ones, we can use the natural self-organising capabilities of human systems to great effect. However self-organisation is not about anarchy, its about top down control not of outcome, but of starting conditions.

To make a new approach work we cannot create yet another set of methods derived from a retrospective study of successful organisations. Instead we have to go back to science, building methods based on sound concepts and then proving and refining them in the field through practice. People are starting to realise that the reasons for those organisations being successful is deeply complex and highly contextual. The simplification to a implied causality in which the recipe offers to reproduce past outcomes was always wrong in theory, but is now proving wrong in practice.

This is also attracting more mainstream academic interest, from an initial skepticism. That interest is now developing into a series of research projects, and with some prestigious institutions. One of the most exciting of these is with UCL where the Sensemaker™ software will be used as one of the primary research tools to study Mega Urban Transport Projects with a view to seeing how they can be brought in on time and to budget. That programme involves researchers in partner universities across the world. This growing interest, and dare I say it respectability, is provided major opportunities for practitioners in the Cognitive Edge network.

Our business model has always been to create a network of consultants, academics and practitioners, built on an open source approach to methods. The software tools not only make it easier for that network to sell their services, but provide a means by which value can be returned through non-utilisation based revenue. Anyone who is accredited to the network is able to use the methods for free, and to use the tools on behalf of their clients or organisations. By providing a revenue sharing opportunity to the network for software sales we enable independent consultants to achieve revenue other than through selling their time, thus freeing them up for reading, research and idea generation so that the wisdom of the network as a whole increases. The vision here is to create a viable alternative to the type of consultancy that I criticised a few days ago. We know that any member of the network can use other members of the network to create a viable team to take on bigger projects than they would be able to do ion their own. They can pull in academics for specific aspects of projects. In house consultancy teams not only have a source or resource with which to supplement their own skills, but also an opportunity to work outside their organisation.

Over the next few months there are opportunities in all geographies to join that network by taking part in an accreditation programme which will give you access to the software tools. London is only 10 days away and we also plan to organise an pdate event for existing UK based practitioners during that course. After that we have Brisbane in January, Singapore and Calgary in February and we are looking at dates in Israel and South Africa to follow.

The network is at the heart of Cognitive Edge We don’t do certification, but we do train people in our methods, and that training enables them to use the software tools. Any one can attend the course, and they then get the right to maintain their profiles on our web site. Have a scan through the list of practitioners to get a sense of the diversity of background, organisation and geography. Its the experience recorded in that web site that gives people status in the network. We also assume that practitioners will use other methods and tools as well as ours. The principle of bounded diversity is at the heart of the Cognitive Edge approach. Different tools work in different contexts. We focus on tools for conditions of high uncertainty, using various sense-making techniques. We expect that to be linked to techniques such as BPR and Systems Dynamics (Learning Organisation et al) all of which (like our methods) are valid within boundaries. No one has a universal answer, including us. Most methods and approaches work within the right context; the problems arise whey you move outside their legitimate context..

Coming on the accreditation courses will give you access to the software tools, and more context for the methods, which can of course be downloaded for free under our open source policy. The accreditation courses are taught by a mixture of myself and local practitioners each of whom has built a body of project work. If you click on the next accreditation course button to the left of this blog you can have a look at the brochures and see some testimonies from previous attendees. We are now keeping these programmes fairly small to make sure that we can give a lot of personal attention. Some of the early ones attracted forty to sixty people and while they were OK, we could not get engaged at an individual level. So we now keep them small.

If you are in Europe and interested you need to act quickly. The next programme is only a week away on the 18th to 20th December in London. We organised this at very short notice so I am pleased that it passed the break even point a week ago, but there are still a few places left. It will be taught by myself and one of the most experienced Cognitive Edge practitioners (actually the most experienced, one of the first people ever to work with me back in IBM days) Sharon Darwent who recently left a senior position in BT to work with Cognitive Edge full time. After that its out to Brisbane in late January and then Singapore and Calgary in Feb. All of those events are booking now.

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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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