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The Salmon effect

December 6, 2012

I was teaching the new framework for the sub-domain of complexity yesterday in Seattle Public Library to an interesting group made up of a couple of AGILE people, Boeing, the US Navy and Oregon Health.  Several people who I have been talking with for years which always makes for interesting questions and ideas.   I made a resolution to keep up with teaching some classes next year as the stimulus really helps the methods along.  One of the good things was a discussion on different types of evidence to shift from the right hand bottom (no consensus, but strong evidence) back up to the diagonal (sorry you need to read the original post).  We were talking in the context of marketing rather than organisational change here and I need to produce a service/product marketing version of the sub-domain model sometime soon.  

So you have a product, you have the evidence, but you don't have market acceptance.  I raised this in the original post, suggesting that once you have a necessary level of proof you need to shift up to the diagonal rather than carrying on making the product better.  The example we discussed was Betamax v Videotext.  Both were proved, but one focused on market share (shifting to the diagonal) while the other relied on being better technically.  I could add the IBM PC v Apple Mac and OS2 v Windows to that list but all three of those examples indicate my age!

As I was thinking about this earlier today a post from Bob Marshall (@flowchainsensei) popped into the RSS feed on the subject of How Likely is It.  Bob starts with a quote from John Seddon to wit  “No amount of evidence can shift a mind-set”  which caught my attention.  Now I really can't make up my mind about Seddon and his Vanguard Method.  I find it difficult to grasp just what is different about it and I've come to the provisional conclusion that its a method built around the personality and capability of the man which will makes it difficult to scale.  It also doesn't seem to be to be systems thinking per se, certainly not complexity and is more defined by what it is against rather than what it is for.  However I'm not sure, need to do some more reading and my response will be a future post.  Bob goes on to reference Feyman's idea that we should ask How likely is it as a way of dealing with truth.  Personally I think its not as good as the idea of coherence, but I have posted on that before.  The specific questions Bob asks using the form are interesting and worth picking up in future posts.

The one thing I do know is that Seddon is wrong on that statement.  Of course it may well have been taken out of context; there are flourishes of rhetoric that we all make from time to time.  It did however link into our discussions of yesterday which looked at different types of evidence and how they work.

I gave the example of a case in which Thames Water were required to clean up the River Thames, something they achieved and the scientific evidence was published.  Of course scientists have a concept of proof which is a little different so they published data including the number of parts per billion of cadmium.  All good stuff but cadmium is a carcinogenic and the popular press picked that up and you can image the rest.   Then by sheer good luck (or foresightful planning and reverse poaching – I jest) a live Salmon was found in the Thames near Lechlade.  Now everyone knows that Salmon are only found in clean water and the balance of belief changed.   

The point is that evidence may be there (the horizontal axes of the sub-domain framework) but to shift up to the diagonal you need to find evidence that will rapidly gain buy in.  For Homo Narrans as a species, that is a link or sympathetic trigger of an associated story the truth of which is already understand.  So the nature of evidence is important, and we don't need to despair.  With the right lever ever the most entrained of mindsets can be shifted.  `if you want to change things you have to engage people in ways that they can understand, that shift them from the situated present in a positive direction or dynamic.  You can't determine the end state.   Retreating from the reality of rhetoric to a morally pure position is the equivalent of hiding in the under-the stairs cupboard to avoid a nuclear holocaust.

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