Thinking flexuously

July 8, 2016

One of my favourite subjects at school was physical geography, a taste that grew into a passion for geology in general and palaeontology in particular. Drawing pictures of Ox-bow lakes is a fond memory, along with lateral and median moraines, crag and tail, hanging valleys and so on. Having provisionally decided to call my combination of S-Curves and Moore’s chasm variation of a life cycle curve the Flexuous curve the image of the Ox Bow lake (and several associated metaphors) came to mind. There is something about evolving physical things that matches complexity work and an Ox-bow lake was once a fluid part of the river but has now been left behind to stagnate; I’ll come back to that metaphor later.

So to begin at the beginning. Over two decades ago when I was working in Datasolve or DataSciences (as it became) I was introduced to Moore’s book and it made a lot of sense. I was then starting to put together a product strategy for MURCO, which was a part of my portfolio as GM for Decision Support Systems. The link is to an article by my marketing manager, co-presenter and Armagnac drinking partner of the time by the way for those who want to know more about the product. The idea of a break in the market life cycle (I am assuming you have read or will read the link) explained a lot of my own experience and I realised that the strategies on each side of the chasm had to be different. Then, as I moved to a central strategic role over the whole company and created the Genus Programme. That programme created a symbiosis between established needs (legacy system management) and novel techniques (RAD, JAD and Object Orientation). I can’t find a reference to that programme on line so I’ll go into the loft when I get home and scan some of the original material in. As I remember it half of our sales in the period before the IBM take over were attributed to that programme so we did something right.

2679934980_653f8c63ac_oInterestingly all my previous roles had involved creating symbiotic products so this was an extension of that. I had by then decided that we needed to create a method to sell novel solutions on the other side of the chasm as the grief and cost of selling to innovators or early adopters was simply too much. We needed to create a way in which novelty could attach itself to existing need so that we could establish an early lead with the early majority. If you get that right then you achieve dominant predator status. The symbiotic strategy worked well; we were selling against known need but differentiating our capability by novelty in effect, without risk to the client.

Fast forward a few years and DataSciences has been lost in the wider IBM who have also parted company with me and most of the Cynefin team. In an early training session I started to weave S-Curves (used to explain the diffusion of innovation) together with Moore’s model and ended up with the model shown below.

In effect I was able to explain the chasm by the dominance of the prior product or market. While the novel product was novel it attracted buyers who liked novelty, but as growth was needed it started to hit issues competing with the existing dominant player in the market. I then further adapted that to describe larger trends in markets (one example in that link but there are others).

I’ve been putting more work into this over the last month or so and used it in a strategy workshop earlier this week. As part of that I have been working through some more strategies on how to sell on the other side of the chasm, and how to handle the maturity issue – where past competence means you don’t see that things are coming to an end. There are some obvious links there to SenseMaker® for monitoring, evidence and anticipatory triggers. Next step will be some short courses and an in house training option – looking for some more early adopters there!

However I need a name and my working title is the F-Curve as a short form of Flexuous /ˈflɛksjʊəs/ . It’s not a common word which is good for branding but its meaning is appropriate: full of bends and curves, lithe or fluid in action. the origin is from the Latin flexuous. I rather like this explanation from Merriam-Webster:

English author Thomas Hardy was fond of the word flexuous and described his dark-haired Tess as “the most flexuous and finely-drawn figure.” “Flexuous” may be a synonym of “curvy,” but it’s not the word most likely to be chosen these days to describe a shapely woman. The botanists’ use of “flexuous” to describe plant stems that aren’t rigid is a more typical use today. But don’t let that tendency deflect you from occasionally employing this ultimately quite flexible word. Stemming straight from Latin flectere, meaning “to bend,” it can also mean “undulating” or “fluid.” It might, for example, be used of writing or music, or of something or someone that moves with a fluid sort of grace.

The wider metaphor then works. As we develop our business and run through multiple life cycles then some good ideas will be left by the wayside (the Ox Bow Lakes) but the river should continue to flow. Its not a linear process but there is an overall direction and an adaptive ability to move around obstacles or, from time to time, grind them down.

More to come, but I need to teach it more before I can write more

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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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