Back from London now from a four day deep dive into complexity theory and Cynefin practice with Dave Snowden and Tony Quinlan from Cognitive Edge. It was a packed full four days with many many many bits and pieces of philosophy, natural science, organizational theory and a few exercises thrown in. It was presented in a straight up lecture format, eight hours a day with one or two exercises and some short periods of conversation. The best reflection periods were the three to four hours afterwards with classmates engaged in what my new Welsh friend Sion Charles and I called “Celtic reflection” which obviously involves pints, craic and towards the end of the evening, a night cap of whisky (and I do owe you a round of malt Sion!). Oh, and really terrific chats about what we had learned and how it can be applied.
At least I was ready for it, having had several friends tell me that the pedagogy is all about “download from the front, try a few things at your tables.” When you know this is what you are going to get, you just go in prepared. It’s not how I teach, but then I wasn’t there to see an imitation of myself. I was there to hear the latest thinking from Dave (especially around the Cynefin sub domains, Cynefin dynamics and the other bits and pieces of theory he’s chasing down) and to hear practitioner stories and experience some of the methods, which Tony showered down on us on days one and four. I was alos curious to explore how Cynefin might better inform my thinking about developmental evaluation. I think now I have a good idea of Cognitive Edge’s approach with clients, and some of the heuristics and principles for applying Cynefin and designing exercises that help us work in the complex domain. And I have a few new lines of inquiry and practice around developmental evaluation that might make their way into some new teaching material, and perhaps a new offering.
I am not new to this framework at all, and it has been a staple of my work with clients over the past few years. I find that it helps to present a strong and clear sense of why you need to do things differently when you are faced with complexity. It helps us understand the point of dialogic approaches to problem-addressing, and in deeper applications, it helps us to adopt better strategic practices for working with emergent and evolutionary situations. I have even worked with SenseMaker(TM) on a project in the United States and learned quickly how people with traditional social science research mindsets hit the wall with gathering data for collective sense-making rather than expert analysis.
As a reference point I though I would gather together a few of my pieces on Cynefin, including videos of me teaching the framework, illustrated with stories from my own practice. So here is a recap of what I know about the framework so far, and it will be interesting to see how that changes as the future unfolds.
Video of me teaching