Its been a long time coming but I'm getting to the next stage of the Knowledge Sharing Across Silos series where I will start to move from analysis to the problem to solutions over a series of posts. However I found when I started writing the first solution post that there was still a story to be told, namely the origin of the Cynefin Framework (or at least its early stages). It all started as a means to understand how informal networks and supporting technologies allow grater connectivity and more rapid association of unexpected ideas and capabilities than formal systems.
A long time ago now I read Boisot's Knowledge Assets for the first time and thanks to the agency of Yasmin Merali met the author and started to work with him; I'll be teaching with him in Hong Kong next week as it happens. The I-Space model shown is a cube based on three axes: abstraction, codification and diffusion. The social learning cycle (red on the picture) shows how as knowledge is increasingly moved from concrete experiential Zen type knowledge to codified highly abstract (expert language etc) it is increasingly easy for it to defuse independently of the knowledge holder. Once internalised it moves back to the concrete. Now that is very brief, you really need to read the book.
Initially in a workshop at Warwick University and then in a series of articles I started to take some of the ideas in the I-Space, added much, modified much and ended up with the Cynefin model. That was the first time I have taught with Max, there have been many times since. This was at the height of the knowledge management movement, then dominated by the SECI model and a focus on codification. My first move was to modify the I-Space to create a different perspective on what would become one axis of Cynefin. I took the abstraction dimension, but looked at that in relationship to the cost of codification.
The result is shown here, and more fully elaborated in this article. Its fairly simple; at the highest level of abstraction (you have a conversation with yourself) the cost of codification is very low as you have a 100% shared context (hopefully). On the other hand if you want to share your knowledge with everyone then the cost of codification will approach infinity. Basically the less the shared context the higher the cost in money, time and effort of creating a knowledge artifact of artifacts which will successful allow knowledge to diffuse without the direct mediation of the knowledge holder. The net result is that is a very narrow range in which it makes any sense to codify at all, which I call the zone of effective diffusion (I used to call it the zone of acceptable abstraction but that is not as accurate and its too wordy to boot).
Now any effective diffusion is dependent on shared context, but it also varies on the degree to which the knowledge context is dependent on cultural aspects. Highly explicit cultures find it easier to codify what they know - think of engineering where there is a body of knowledge, an established education and training programme and a body of published material. On the other hand much knowledge is informal, is deeply dependent for understanding on common shared experiences and deep trust built over time.
Given these two elements I created a model with a vertical dimension based on the balance between low and restricted levels of abstraction and the horizontal one flexing between teaching and learning cultures. At various times I also used explicit and tacit, rule based and ideation based and other language. It isn't the Cynefin model, I was only just starting to study complexity and was proceeding with care. Far too may people read up on something quickly and use the language without real real understanding. You see a lot of that with complexity theory and neuro-science, and there are now some cases with Cynefin itself. Either way its not somewhere I wanted (or want ) to go. You can see the evolutionary path that led from this model to Cynefin but Cynefin only really arrives when complex adaptive systems theory is used for the first time. The model allowed me to look at four types of community or knowledge sharing context. as follows:
It was early days but the ideas were forming. I am OK with the abovemodel, although I think I misused symbolic and I wouldn't fall back to it. That version went on to be a part of a book chapter before complexity theory crept in and the early forms of what is now Cynefin started to emerge. More of that in a future post
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