The place of belonging

January 31, 2013

I was thinking a lot about identity today.  I'm at Bangor University, running a whole day seminar for the Welsh Audit Office.  Its a repeat of the successful Cardiff event last year.  I grew up in North Wales from the age of five to when I left for University at eighteen.  But we were taken back to Cardiff several times a year so that we knew we were South Welsh at heart.  The two identities were very different.  The one industrial, internationalist and english speaking; the other rural, nationalist and welsh speaking.  That distinction is still there although not as pronounced and both identities pull on me.

I had driven up to Sheffield from Heathrow for an afternoon meeting and then headed off by way of the Snake Pass in a glorious storm.  Then driving west on the M56 the outline of Moel Famau emerged on a rain sodden horizon and I knew I was coming home.  A few hours earlier and I would have been tempted to divert from the A55 Coast Road and maybe have climbed it.  But the sun was setting and I had come in from Singapore overnight so I carried on at high speed.  At Abergele I started to remember our twice weekly trips to race at Llandudno Sailing Club (every Wednesday night and Sunday afternoon) and then approaching Conwy the mountains of Snowdonia started to dominate the landscape and I remembered the Saturdays we spent climbing them as a family, and when I could drive on my own.  I crossed the Menai via the old Telford Suspension Bridge (pictured early in the morning) and drew into the Anglesey Arms to meet my colleagues (well I suppose they are customers, but it doesn't feel like that.  

An evening of conversation and a good nights sleep had me ready for the workshop and after a little issue or two with the University AV equipment we were ready to do.   Now I do a lot of presentations, but I always enjoy it when I am back in Wales.  There is something about speaking to your own culture, where everyone there shares the same history and many of the same values.   I was passionate about the need for public service not to ape industrial models and used the attempt by the current British Government to mongrelise the police as an illustration of the dangers.  You used to be able the Conservative Party to leave things well alone but they started with Police Commissioners and now want to abandon the idea of the post of Constable.   The former move which resulted in my spoiling a ballot paper for the first time in my life, politicised the police for the first time since their foundation.  The new move is to allow direct entry to senior ranks without first spending time on the beat as a constable and makes the classic knowledge management error of ignoring the need for experience and ritual in creating identity.

Having got that out of my system I was more positive, talking about the need for complexity to transform government.  That key phrase from the children's party story offers hope.  We manage the emergence of beneficial coherence within attractors, within boundaries.   By managing what we can we now only do more with less, but we also allow locally contextual solutions to emerge.   In the second session we worked through those, talking about possible projects and in all those conversations we had a shared culture a shared passion, a shared history:  Cynefin

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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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