The Vancouver Stanley Cup Riot through the Cynefin looking glass

October 11, 2011

One of the more fascinating applications of the Cynefin framework is dynamically plotting the unfolding of events as they occur. It’s an engaging way to track history in the making.

As mentioned in my first posting, I recently experienced the embarrassment of a riot on the very same streets that hosted a very successful Winter Olympics a year before. I was at Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. Upon exiting the area, my son and I wisely made the right choice to control our curiosity and not venture downtown. As we walked home and saw the smoke rising in the background, I began thinking about the Chaotic Domain. What violent and destructive acts are occurring? How are the police responding to control and curtail? What does a person sense that turns him/her into a rioter? Become a good samaritan? A paralyzed bystander?

On the following day unsuspecting heroes emerged out of no where to lead people out of the Chaotic domain. Followers of all ages on their own volition came down to collect garbage, sweep streets, and help store owners with temporary repairs. Ward Grant was so ashamed he posted a “I’m Sorry” sign. His personal action went viral and led to over 250,000 messages and signatures written on a “Wall of Hope” . This past Thursday was the opening of the 2011-12 season. Before the hockey game the Canucks team and management paid tribute to Ward and other citizens for their good deeds. The healing begins thanks to these Strange Attractors.

We are seeing the full power of social media being unleashed in no uncertain terms. Incredulously, rioters posted pictures and comments on their Facebook pages proudly telling the world what they had done. The reaction was swift with Facebook, Twitter, and blogger websites reposting and damning them. Feeding off the frenzy, the Vancouver City Police have created a site of their own and are asking viewers to help identify potential criminals.

We have moved into the Complicated Domain. Experts were hired to analyze and submitted their report; it was not very well received. Three months after the riot, progress has been slow despite the cries for immediate justice and retribution. The Vancouver Police Department was accused of plodding along. The justification provided was that the criminal law system in Canada is very complicated and every step must be carefully followed. Unfortunately for the VPD, its leaders did not look very competent in the public’s eye when the London riot erupted in August and 1,000 people were charged immediately thereafter. Charges are just now beginning to be laid and arrests made.

Out of all this mayhem, one question kept bugging me: what causes people to get caught up in a mob mentality?
One person caught in the act was a Canadian water polo player. He has been banned from the national team for two years. The 18 year old was at a loss to explain what he was thinking. One witness interviewed seemed to capture the mood at the time: “I was upset that the Canucks didn’t win the Stanley Cup. I saw an empty cop car being kicked. Then some guy climbed up and began jumping on the car roof. There were immediate cheers from the crowd. Then silence. Nothing happened. No cops appeared. So another person jumped on the car. Followed by somebody smashing the windows. More cheering. More jumping. And then someone set the car on fire.”

There were police officers on the ground nearby. When none moved quickly to shout “Stop! Get off that car!”, rowdies took that as a sign their behaviour would go unpunished. In fact, it was rewarded when cheers erupted from the crowd. The moment in time which Malcolm Gladwell calls the Tipping Point had been reached. As CE practitioners, we can illustrate this as crossing the Simple domain and catastrophically falling into the Chaotic domain.

What could have been done to stabilize, move the situation back into the Simple domain and get matters under control?

The obvious one being bantered around and argued by politicians is a larger police force on the ground. But there are others solutions. I thought of two:

* Meet violence head on with violence. Have unknown snipers located on several rooftops. These special police officers have the authority to shoot mob instigators. When one spots a person jumping on a car, shoot him with a rubber bullet and knock him off the car. Now observe how the system responds. I envision 3 possible outcomes.
Positive outcome – people scatter and immediately leave downtown. Potential riot squelched.
Uncertain outcome – people are stunned but don’t move. Another person climbs and starts jumping on the car. Accelerate and shoot this vandal. Continue to monitor and hope for the positive outcome.
Negative outcome – bystanders pull out concealed weapons and start shooting randomly. Uh-oh. Didn’t work.

* Do nothing extra other than complete the criminal and civil proceedings underway and publicly broadcast the results. The system has failed so it needs to become more resilient. Enable digital vigilantes as system agents to self-organize and deliver scarring consequences. As offenders are charged and brought to justice, sentences will be posted beside their pictures and video clips for a long time. How about forever. The intent is that people before committing an illegal act will think twice knowing their entire future could be placed in jeopardy.

This wraps up my 2 weeks as a guest blogger. It’s been a joy writing and I hope fellow practitioners had an equally good time reading. Although I’m signing off, I won’t be signing out and look forward to future interactions with you all.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent Posts

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.


< Prev

Working with the Front-line

- No Comments

Front-line managers and supervisors practically spend their entire working day on the Ordered Side. I ...

More posts

Next >

Two challenges and a puzzle

- No Comments

Let's recap. The evaluation field tends to use things called “Logic Models” to assess and ...

More posts

linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram