Thinking about 2013

January 1, 2013

2012 was one of those years that I will remember for some time.  Not least for avoiding the Mayan apocalypse and the prophesied return of the green feathered serpent god Quetzalcoatl to restore peace and harmony.  Having been a subcontractor to someone who took the idea seriously back in the early days of Cognitive Edge, being proved right has a certain piquancy.  I ordered the limited edition T-Shirt from Gaping Void by way of celebration – before the due date as an act of fait.

Cults and the non arrival of cataclysmic events aside, the year has been a good one at a personal level other than the odd sacrifice or two of which more in my memoirs at some far future date.  Special memories are my daughter Eleanor graduating in Anthropology and in particular the hug I got when the degree was awarded; I had been a part of that journey!  Eleanor also got accepted onto an MA and I've just spent two days on a father-daughter short break in Warsaw which was fascinating; expect a post this week.  My son did well enough at the end of his second year  of undergraduate chemistry to go onto the four year MSc programme rather than the three year BSc.  But on the downside, they have to work hard in Chemistry so I have seen less of him at Rugby matches than in previous years. 

My own resolve to walk every weekend produced results both in fitness and in some fresh thinking (of which more later).  OK there was the odd moment when endurance was more dominant than enjoyment but its been very good.  The Ridgeway and the Cotswolds long distance paths are complete, the South Downs way approaching the final four legs and the Thames path simply waiting the retreat of the flood waters before Peter, Julia and I make the Maidenhead to Thames Barrier section.  If that wasn't enough I have started the far more daunting South West Coastal path before my 60@60 Round Wales walk in 2014.  I'll be on the South Downs Way today, more on that tomorrow.

For Cognitive Edge as a company it has, shall we say been interesting, with three key members of staff leaving resulting in a need to rebuild both our Development Team and the order pipeline.   I'm pleased to say that not only did we deliver more new software in 2012 than in the previous four years, but we also secured our largest ever order towards the end of the year.   As I write we are moving into a series of key partnerships, including one joint venture, which will allow us to scale faster and, critically, build on the high level of specialist skill in our network.

There is a lot to do this coming year, so I thought I would summarise some of the key things that will be occupying me over 2013.  Some of this is still under discussion so expect a series of announcements over the next couple of months which will flesh out details.  One of the reasons for publishing this is that we are a network, so we are looking from ideas from all members of said network to the future.  I've kept the more academic things for the end by the way.

  • We will shortly announce the first ever world wide Cognitive Edge/Cynefin gathering to be held in conjunction with the Hay on Wye Book Festival and the parallel HowTheLightGetsIn event, with which we will link.   I am working on the agenda and some key speakers/discussants at the moment but anyone in the network will get an email on this within days.  Aside from it being in Wales (which is appropriate for the first such event) the link with the festivals makes for a few holiday opportunities for those interested.  Even if you are not interested in the festivals then the country side around hay-on-Wye is beautiful and some of the best walking in the World.  You are also close to the castles of South Wales and Industrial museums on the mining industry, all of which are worth a trip. Both festivals go out of their way to make things possible for children by the way.
  • Over the years we have created a body of methods and trained several thousand people.  We are now starting to build those into more structured approaches, including some linked to SenseMaker that will be available through the network.  I'm particularly interested in a full strategy engagement process that will allow Cynefin (and the new domain models) to be rolled out as an alternative to more process driven approaches.  With the collapse of Monitor and other signs and portents I am pretty convinced that 2013 is the year that complexity will come of age.  One of those signs is that the citation level for Cynefin both academic and popular is rising fast. This change is of course fraught with dangers as the language can easily be adopted and twisted to rebrand existing methods rather than facilitate the mind set change which is so important.  But overall I am optimistic.  In doing this we want to offer opportunities to the network to participate in larger projects, and to draw on the network to extend their own capability.
  • Our training programme, in particular the basic accreditation course has been unchanged for five years so its due a refresh.  In particular we are modularising the various elements and switching to a more visual form of support material for full subscribers.  We're considered a course that just covers Cynefin and also bringing back a two/three day event just on narrative techniques (non-software).  The modularisation will allow people to create in house programmes and also combine out material with other sources.  That should help the network as well as our direct customers.  Those changes will also allow us to develop application and/or field specific training both directly and with key partners.  We will also break the English language hegemony providing training in German and Spanish this year and may offer the first public Mandarin Courses if demand is there.  We will also experiment with using SenseMaker® in advance of courses and subsequently as a learning/knowledge system for participants.
  • On the software front expect the current pace of development to continue.  I'm not making any specific commitments at the moment, but our plans are to extend the reporting, analysis and monitoring aspects of SenseMaker as well as creating the capability to customise to specific market needs.  That will include easier interfaces to third party tools for analysts and others.   We will increasingly use the App based environment following our first successful deployment of the Collector app a few months ago.  We will also shortly be releasing standard versions of SenseMaker for areas such as Cynefin mapping, Knowledge Management, Cultural Mapping and User Requirement Capture.  Those will all be part of a new web site that will be up in the first quarter.
  • Our first joint venture will be with an application targeted at the Personnel and Executive Coaching markets.  The picture gives a clue, but that is all you are getting for the moment!  More details shortly and once we have worked out the “how” in a first case we will open up the model to others with bright ideas on creating new service offerings using SenseMaker®.   I am also in the last stages of agreeing an exciting new partnership for Citizen Journalism and Digital Story Telling.   We've been talking for much of the year of Powered by SenseMaker to indicate our desire that the software gets used to deliver multiple application and market specific offerings through the network rather than us doing everything direct.  I'm not giving much more away at the moment but full members of the network will get advance notice before we go public in the majority of cases.  

Now those are all business developments but we have also made a good start in extending and developing the conceptual underpinnings of the whole Cognitive Edge approach.  I was engaged in a flurry of activity around this in the last quarter and published early on the blog; something I will continue.   Others are also engaged in this and academic citations and examples are on the increase.

Of course this development is not just academic, it has a lot of practical impact. And not just at an organisational level, but also a personal one.  One of the most moving emails I got during the year was about personal use and its one of several.  So I don't buy the academic/non-academic split but have made it in deference to a colleague albeit with some HTML humour by way of ironic comment.

So at the moment, and more specifically we have:

  • Completion of the four (possibly five) domain models that extend the Cynefin framework and provide independent points of entry to the whole Cognitive Edge approach.   The first versions have all been published on the blog and I am currently experimenting with them in workshops as well as in speaking engagements.
  • The idea of goal setting through developing the idea of Virtue which I started this year will grow and extend.  That includes very practical methods such as using parables rather than value statements.  I'm looking at different types of goal setting and objectives by domain to provide a bridge between traditional process based approaches and complexity thinking/sense-making.
  • I plan to get to start getting with the issues of causality that are fundamental to complexity thinking.  I'll be drawing on Juarrero's work there, as I did in developing the constraint based definition of systems that underpins the HBR article and the current manifestation of Cynefin.  I'm working away at something that is intellectually coherent but also easy to explain.  I've started with the dispositional not causal point but there is a lot more work to do there yet.
  • I'm getting quite excited by some of the prospects for using cognitive complexity (or naturalising sense-making, still trying to decide which is the better name) theory in Governance, both at a company and a state level.  A few serious conversations and the odd think tank this year will allow me to develop that and publish it in part.
  • Resilience and its meaning for organisations both public and private remains an underpinning idea.  I'll be blogging a response to Taleb's attempt to avoid the “R” word in a week or so as one part of that.  I'm also thinking of how we scale up work we have already done at a Government level to scale up measurement and monitoring of resilience in populations and also creating some 'traffic light' type systems.
  • Finally I will extend the work I started in 2012 on the idea of fractal approaches to management.   Cynefin, properly implemented, already achieves that goal with the same framework being used for both strategy and operations.  However this needs to be extended as a matter of some urgency.  Linear models lack the capacity to handle fast feedback loops and dynamically rework both situational assessment and action.

I'll be using this blog to explore those ideas in their early form, and earlier than I have done historically.  I found with the domain models that this helped as it increased the number of questions and ideas that came in both in comments and far more in emails.  The more the merrier!

Other than that I will probably not wean myself away from Wikipedia, not least because constant vigilance is needed on several pseudo-science articles, in particular the NLP one.   I got a barn star for my contributions on that recently which pleased me.  The other reason to be honest is that Wikipedia is a lot more fun that list serves and as my son Huw pointed out is a type of adult game, albeit (this is me not Huw) with serious purpose.  

I'll be in Australia for at least part of the Lions Tour and will maintain my loyal support of Cardiff Blues over what is a painful rebuilding period (or at least that is what I keep telling myself, but we did win our last game). &nbnbsp;I am praying that Wales repeat their form of the last Six Nations rather than the Autumn Series.

My other resolution that I hope to keep, is to get back to higher reading volumes even if that means some emails go unanswered.  I end 2012 with over 500 in that category so that may be a difficult resolution to maintain but I am going to do my best.  Its up there with the walking resolution, all about staying alive really!

So 2013 is going to be a very full year for Cognitive Edge.  Hopefully it will also be for our developing network and my best wishes to all during these difficult times.


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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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