Dave Snowden is a compelling storyteller, mad genius, and irascible Welshman who has pioneered the mash-up of complexity theory and management practice.
Dave led a day-long seminar on his version of complexity in San Francisco today. I’m still absorbing the implications. This is brilliant, important work.
Begin with Dave’s Cynefin framework.
Problems come in four domains: simple, complicated, complex, and chaotic. Each calls for a different approach. This is a sense making framework, not a categorization method. I tried to capture this in my notes, which appear below.
- Simple. Hierarchy works in simple situations. In the complex system, you need to set the boundaries.
- Ordered system. Constrains agents, reductionism and rules, determinism, observer independence. Bring in an expert or analyze situation. Sense, analyze, respond. Good practice.
- Chaotic systems. Agents unconstrained and independent of one another, studied thru stats and probability. Act, sense, respond. Novel.
- Complex adaptive systems . Lightly constrains agents. Agents modify system thru interaction with it. They co-evolve (making things irreversible). Inherently unpredictable. CAS is non-causal. Some things just are. Can only understand by interacting with it. Probe, sense, respond. Do NOT bring in experts: they are the most conservative people on earth. Bring in diverse experts, if any. Emergent practice.
For the real deal, visit the site of Dave’s company, Cognitive Edge.
This graphic captures what I found most exciting: three major realignments. I’ve been prattling on about the shift from the era of scientific management to the world of systems dynamics for several years. Dave clarified what comes next, something he calls the era of cognition and complexity.
Notes: After 9/11, the intelligence agencies were critiqued for failing to connect the dots. If there are only four dots, they can form 64 patterns. Twelve dots can form 4,700 quadrillion patterns. Connecting dots is a fool’s errand.
Discoveries are made by people who are alert to the possibility of error.
Aristotle: “Whereas young people become accomplished In geometry and mathematics, and wise within. These limits, prudent young people. Do not seem to be found. The reason is that prudence is concerned with particulars as well as universals, and particulars become known from experience, but a young person lacks experience, since lack of time is needed to produce.”
Recipe book versus being a chef. If you wanted to eat a meal, would you prefer it be prepared by a chef or a recipe-book reader?
Target Hoppers, the managers at IBM who chase after one goal come hell or high water, and then hop to the next target. I mentioned my peeve that business people inevitably take short-term gain over long-term benefit. Dave says that managing in the US and UK since the 80s has been dominated by the asymptote: optimizing one thing. Tunnel vision.
Unintended consequences. James Herriott’s All Creatures approach was individualized. UK reporting system led to farmers not reporting symptoms at all.
Power Laws. In lieu of bell curve. Changes management practice to resilience in the face of inevitable error. Early warning systems instead of plans. Rapid adaptation. Dave’s book will probably be named The Resilient Organization.
Yesterday Dave was at Boeing for the day. They have calcified to the point that they could not create the 747 again.
Today you develop a software app by first establishing the architecture and then allowing the app to grow within it.
Resilience is hot. “Are they using your language?”
Complexity theory. Risk of confusion with chaos.
A system is any network that has coherence. It may be fuzzy or without purpose. Coherence means that it hangs together. Ideas > people
An agent is anything which acts within the system.
Managing the ecology, the conditions…
Phase shift between one system and another. Ordered, complex, chaos: no blending.
We have to be able to describe the present situation more than try to describe the future.
Traffic control. Roundabouts. “the magic roundabout” CAS with distributed cognition. No gridlock. Computers cannot cognate.
Ontology, epistemology, phenomenology. Knowledge and perception not aligned. Try to have perpetual re-setting. Ont = nature of things. Epis = how we know hinges. Phenom = what we see.
Ontology precedes epistemology. Contradictory methods… What’s right within boundaries. Models for managers all come from manufacturing. Sick stigma. Industrial best practices = total disaster now being sold to government the ultimate dead end.
They love the concept of order. Children’s party. Project party. Motivational video. After action review. CAS view try it; probe and respond. You manage what can be managed; you don’t try to manage what cannot be managed. Manage boundary conditions. Works for Singapore.
Magnets. Magnet are modulators. Dark matter – we cannot see it but we know it’s real.
Cynefin framework. Welsh term, opposed to 2 x 2 model. Baaa. Place. HBR wanted to hang cynefin on BCG matrix. Model emerges from the framework.
Disorder is state of not knowing what domain you are in. Need to minimize confusion. Figure out where you are; then select what to do.
Do it over and over, maybe every six months. Manage for serendipity. The more perceptions, the better. Safe-fail, not fail-safe. Probe – low impact.
Soccer is a game for thugs played by gentlemen. Rugby is a game for gentlemen played by thugs.
John Cleese on difference between US and England. When you meet our head of state, you only need to go down on one knee. We speak English. When we have a global competition, we invite other countries to attend.
Move into action
Mix problems and solutions.
Eliminate the simple stuff.
Fill out form for complicated.
Different form(s) for complex.
Ritualized dissent. Turn back and they tear it to shreds.
Dave dislikes Open Space because the law of two feet ostracizes dissenters.
In Australia, go to Broken Hill. Bush country diet reverses type II diabetes. Came up with 13 experiments, such things as bussing people to collective eating spots, teaching hunters how to deal with other tribes’ animals etc.parallels for corporations. In practice, have 100s participate.
Aspects of complexity
Highly sensitive to small changes. Detection of weak signals is key.
Proximity and connectivity of agents has high impact. (tell the story backwards to elicit the truth; the human brain cannot lie backwards)
Meaning emerges thru interaction (peers)
Hindsight does not lead to foresight
Work with finely granulated objects. Tweets and blogs. Iraq ysystem linking history with current situation.
5 is items in memory
15 is the number of trust, the size of the traditional family
150 Dunbar number
Smaller units make for more alternatives, fast mix and match.
Disintermediation. Put decision-makers in direct contact with data.
Distributed cognition. Wisdom, not foolishness, of crowds.
Human beings were made to satisfy, not optimize. Hunters on the savannah making rapid decisions with incomplete information.
Homo narrens instead of homo sapiens.
Dave has set up system where shoppers in 250 stores try the product and tell their stories. Output is a real time semantic picture of the brand!
Moving to the next paradigm
Crews. New organizational forms. People aboard ship are trained in roles. When you are on watch, you are in charge. No one with more than to roles.
Collective identity structure replacing individualism.
Social network stimulation
If you can get everyone in an organization within three degrees of separation, you no longer need the system. Establishes trust. KM would not be necessary.
Take an intractable problem. Need to have possibility of unquestioned solution. $20 million organ benefit for example.
Rules to prevent people colluding/force diversity. Asymmetry of membership. Promote mavericks as free radicals.
Rewards. Three month sabbatical. Maximum team = 7. Do it on their own time.
Change the environment, not the people.
Self-form the team. More productive that way.
Run one or two months. Cannot be on same team. Two years, everyone knows one another within three degrees.
End up with agile framework.
Anthropology-simulation. They fail three times. A character named god can come in with a miracle. Human-controlled game can be richer than a computer game. Variation: can use fictional situations.
Science fiction conferences attract dynamite scientists. Attend one. Dave got execs to visit a sim of their own company.
Cynefin construction. 500-600 bits on hex Post-Its. (Hex trumps square. Patterns emerge.)
What remains split into cynefin model.
Creating the framework. Tables of four. Childrens party story. Find real problems by domain. Cut paper into four. Regroup. Not as good as the first method because people see the model first.
Landscape of management
Correlation vs causation
Sensemaker software is open source – different meaning of complexity
Complex: probes, boundaries. Do not mess with things you cannot change and monitor impact. Facilitate the unknowable journey.
Unknown known model. Note HBR article reference.
As if by magic, today’s cartoon:
It is how we evolved, so… It is how things will be.