Thinking about coherence

August 2, 2012

I promised in my last post that I would talk more about coherence as a part of my development of a sub-model for the complex domain of Cynefin. As previously outlined I am exploring this publicly via the blog and appreciate all the feedback received so far. In a future post (probably next week) I will outline one example use of this, linking it with the turning points produced in one of our more popular methods namely The Future Backwards.

So to coherence and the illustration that heads this post. Those who have been following this thread will recognise the underlying model that contrasts consensus with coherence. As I explained last time I am using coherence as a way of understanding the degree and nature of evidence that supports either a planned action or a situational assessment (the difference between those being important and both are key in a Cynefin engagement). What I am doing now is to explore; which means I reserve the right to change. contradict or generally confabulate any or all of the material over the next few weeks as I finalise this.

Now I can see three ways of looking at the coherence axis, one old, one recent and one new in terms of material I have published either here or in articles. I should also emphasise that these are different, I am not trying to match the three scales, just explore three ways of looking at the problem.

  • Firstly: types of logic
    This refers back to various blogs and the YouTube video on robustness to resilience. Here at high levels of coherence we are talking about statement like 2+2=4 and the like, or the assertion that Socrates is a man because he is a philosopher and all philosophers are men. If we understand the axioms then we can deduce the result. As coherence decreases then we move from a Gaussian to a Pareto Universe (again apologies for the lack of a link) and from Inductive or case based reasoning (all other cases of A have B associated with them therefore …) to abductive logic. At that point authenticity requires a human sensor network (my phrase for the practical operation of Wisdom of Crowds to objectify abductive or intuitive leaps.
    Note that all of these involve evidence. I have taken the extreme (too often the norm) of Gut Feel and placed it in the inauthentic aspects of the disordered domain. Others might want to talk about magic, wizards, Great Leaders, Snake Oil Salesmen or whatever, I’m calling it inauthentic, its use may be necessary but it indicates a lack of preparedness and a lack of thinking in most cases.
  • Secondly: a wee bit of partial plagiarism from the philosophy of science
    High cohesion here means statements like The Earth orbits the Sun. Its something that no reasonable person can deny and is evidenced in a traditional scientific way. At times in history people did not accept it (low consensus) and scientist had to choose between martyrdom and compromising on truth to move people forward: see my previous post of dynamics. As we move to lower cohesion we come to hypotheses (overlap here with induction and cases) which could be falsified, i.e. we could prove a negative but could not ever be fully sure of the positive (OK OK I know this is bastardising Popper but I am trying to get something that can be used with executives). The absence of falsification given sufficient experiments allows us to progress.
    Then we move into something which is more like consensus (especially in the way Thagard uses it) which is a space where only acting can determine what is valid. Here safe-to-fail and short life cycle testing becomes critical. Lapsing into New Age Fluffy Bunny relativism or the like represents an inauthentic response. Allowing, nay encouraging contradictory ideas to be tested in practice is authentic.
  • Thirdly: those good old known unknowns again
    This goes back to precursors of Cynefin (in the History of Cynefin article) and also the names of the Simple and Complicated domains in early versions of the framework. Here high cohesion means it is something that is known, as cohesion drops we have to do some type of investigation, its knowable and we know how to know. Then we enter the unknown and finally the unknowable both of which require experimental approaches

I’m inclined to keep all three for the moment, or choose for different environments. Not sure on that yet.

Next up CalmBeta and then some reflections on the Rockies; a degree of retrofit blogging here allows me to predict that!

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