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The Scale of the Whole

March 29, 2011

Giving a talk next week on innovation and design thinking has me turning to Bill McDonough for inspiration. His work and words align well with what Cognitive Edge practitioners bring to our clients, so let me explore that a bit.
Design = Intention
What is our intention? Perhaps the greatest shift we bring to our clients is the ability to stand in the complex and work from there in the complicated and simple. So our intention could be to recognize and work on complex human systems from within the complex adaptive system that they are. This perspective of systems is often lost by the user who remains planted, firmly in a linear, mechanistic mindset. From this non-linear, complex mindset we are still able to do linear work, from a Cynefin point of view the ordered domains of Simple and Complicated stuff. It is the vice versa that is hard to achieve because of the analytical thinking it uses – take stuff apart, figure out what each part does, understand the whole.
When we move to synthetic thinking or abduction, we begin to see even complicated linear processes as defined by their functions and part of a larger whole. In this way McDonough created a horizontal city in China that is underground and complex enough that the interactions of the parts produce a functioning, sustainable whole.
When you watch the video pay close attention to his description of designing a tree…”and we cut these down to write on them!”

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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.
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