[SoL] Dave Snowden and Cynifen Centre

This was the most interesting plenary session for me, and also my most interesting parallel session (see next post). I am planning to attend a training course on this material later this year or early next. I found it a very exciting blend of quantitative analysis and phenominological source material.
“Open source Consulting” and “Noble Networks” When you join the network (by attending training and then entering a mentor program) you have Creative Commons license to the software and process models the group is developing. It’s more complicated than this, but that’s the gist of it.
He drew a distinction between discovering new knowledge vs. discovering existing knowledge. Academic research vs. understanding and acting on what’s present.
Magic quadrant of where they’re working:

Computational    |     Cynefin
Complex            Complexity       |     Sense-making
Output             "simulation"     |     "ecology"
Simple             Process          |     Systems
Output             Engineering      |     Dynamics
"machine"        |     "organism"
Simple                Complex
Input                 Output

Similar to how many people confuse correlation with causation (“which is rampant in management consulting”) many people also confuse simulation with prediction.
Three ways of sense-making:
1. The way things are (ontology).
* Ordered: Predictable cause and effect
* Complex: Cause and effect retroactively coherent
* Chaotic: No cause and effect at unit level
2. The way we know things (epistemology)
* Explicit: Documentation, databases
* Narrative: necessary ambiguity
* Experimental: How do you ride a bike?
3. The way we perceive the world (phenomenology)
* Information processing
* pattern processing
* Ideological patterning
Gave an example of a radiologist, who has learned ~40,000 typical possible patterns of bone breaks. They scan the x-ray, and use a “first fit” data match. They are “satisfying,” not “optimizing.”
Hard to label the next two quadrants, but basically I think he’s showing the move from the “input” of sense-making, to the categories of sense-making.

COMPLEX          |     HIDDEN
UN-ORDER         |     ORDER
C & E coherent  |      C & E are
in retrospect   |      discernible
CHAOTIC          |     VISIBLE
UN-ORDER         |     ORDER
No perceivable  |      C & E are
C & E           |      ordered

probe           |      sense
sense           |      analyze
respond         |      respond
CHAOTIC          |     SIMPLE
act             |      sense
sense           |      categorize
respond         |      respond

An example from the book, “The Geography of Thought:” Here are three words. Which one in unrelated?
* Cow
* Chicken
* Grass
If your ancestral roots are from one region (I forget / didn’t write down the regions) you will answer “grass” because it is not an animal. But if your roots are from another region, you will answer “chicken” because the cow and the grass have a relationship. FWIW, I choose chicken.
Four aspects of narrative work:
1. Storytelling: Communication with structure and form
2. Resonance: Does it fit my existing patterns
3. Displacement: A mechanism for sharing failure without blame. Story forms evolved to tell of our failures so others wouldn’t follow.
4. Ambiguity: precise vs. partial
Oral history and ethnographic research. Fascinating, not least because a recent client project of mine used virtually the same process he described, which he called “pre-hypothesis” research. The role and position of the “expert” influence the study. “Knowledge portals” fail, but storytelling works. Emergent meaning and serendipitous search. Problems to avoid: more than two interviews per interviewer (to me this seems really hard or expensive to avoid) and auto-suggestion (which is solved through training and in-the-moment discipline.
Snowden and Cynifen are trying to bring understanding to complex systems, going beyond simple or complicated systems, and avoiding trying to understand chaotic systems (which generate red herrings). In the parallel session the next day they did a case study of a significant project at a bank in Australia and New Zealand applying these techniques. All in all, a thrilling integration of quantitative and qualitative work. Cutting edge thinking on managing complexity in the real world.