Dave Snowden on the heuristics of complexity

A very useful list from Dave Snowden which can be used to describe good tactics for dealing with complex situations:

  • The whole success of social computing is because it conforms to the three heuristics of complex systems: finely grained objects, distributed cognition & disintermediation
  • In an uncertain world we need fast, real time feedbacks not linear processes and criticism includes short cycle experimental processes which remain linear.
  • The real dangers are retrospective coherence and premature convergence
  • Narrative is vital, but story-telling is at best ambiguous
  • Need to shift from thinking about drivers to modulators
  • You can’t eliminate cognitive bias, you work with it
  • Extrinsic rewards destroy intrinsic motivation
  • Messy coherence is the essence of managing complexity


  1. Hi Chris
    I want to contrast my reactions to your last two posts, mainly as a personal reflection. Your post on what’s happening on Bowen Island moved me, it’s a story, your story, I can see and hear and feel you as I read it. It makes me feel human and connected. This post on heuristics and complexity makes me feel dumb. I don’t understand the words or what they mean and it makes me feel as though I should. I wonder how you feel about writing such contrasting posts?

  2. Hiya Viv…this blog has occasionally gone through fits and spells of identity crises and this is probably one. Not sure if I should be writing more personally here or using it more for it’s intended function, as a “parking lot.”

    But I notice that I use Evernote more for that kind of reminder and I tweet links out like the one above. And I have no desire to make my readers feel numb (or dumb even) so perhaps I will just stick to writing personally here.

    Thanks for your feedback!

    Turkey is lovely and hot by the way…. :-)

  3. Hi Chris,

    Just stumbled on this blog – found the list really helpful. As has been your link to Ownership and the Living Organisation. We’re starting up with a structure centred on stewardship and rights decoupled from financial / investment rights.

    The list has triggered a few useful thoughts on creating a scalable social community that is also a profitable business.

    Thanks …