Winds of change

January 14, 2013

After a weekend of internal stuff today was all about client meetings while Michael taught the foundations course.  The government of Nova Scotia are one of our long time users and have a project license for SenseMaker®.  They have done a series of interesting projects, the latest on attitudes to climate change and domestic violence.  My first task of the day was to present to a session of the Deputy Ministers (Permanent Secretaries in British terms) on the overall approach and the way in which tools like SenseMaker® can be used.  For those who don't know, Nova Scotia is one of the three Maritime provinces in Canada with a population just under a million.  It was the first British Colony to achieve self-Government and has a complex history of settlement and warfare over the years.  It was the main base for convoys during WWII and the last corvette is moored in its harbour.  Its a navy town still and has the only pub I know in North America which understands the need for hand pumps if you want decent beer.

I had a good hour with the DMs and some very interesting questions at the end.  I got grabbed by one as I was leaving and ended up meeting his management team over lunch and there was interest in a range of current social and economic issues.   The thing which struck me, as it has before, is the change in attitude over the last few years.  The financial crash seems to have triggered it as old certainties were destroyed and people are having to try and find ways to achieve significantly more in terms of social provision with rapidly declining resources.  A few years ago I would not have risked saying that complex systems are non causal, but are dispositional in a senior government session.  Today I emphasised it and the consequences to a lot of nods and note taking.  OK a few were not engaged and one seemed more interested in managing blackberry traffic but the majority were seeing connections between the theory and examples I was providing with current issues and problems/opportunities for the Province.

I'm seeing this pattern elsewhere as well, and its not possible for idealistic or traditional process based solutions to come close.  The issue for all of us working in complexity to create authentic methods and tools that can provide something of genuine worth.  The danger is that the fad cycle drones are seizing on the language to badge old methods in new language with little understanding.  OK that is a problem, but its a problem worth dealing with.

Change and continuity are well illustrated by the opening picture.  I snapped this in the reception of one of the Ministry buildings which used to be the Eatons Mail Order headquarters.   The full picture is here.  As I looked at this I reflected on the news that Comet, HMV and Jessops had all gone into receivership in the UK.  Displaced by online shopping.  When it comes down to it, that Eatons catalogue is the 1932 equivalent of Amazon.  Change is about understanding cycles and patterns, adapting models and responding to uncertainty not by reaction, but my creating stabilities through action.



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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.

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