Working in Complex Spaces from my Favorite Curmudgeon

Earlier this week Chris Corrigan pointed to a great blog post from one of my favorite curmudgeons, Dave Snowden (Dave, yes, I think a cacophony of curmudgeon’s is perfect!) on the heuristics of complexity. ¬†Dave wrote in (Of tittering, twittering & twitterpating) the following:

We need to draw a fine line between legitimate experimentation and slipping into magpiedom and the legitimacy probably depends on the degree to which there is a coherent narrative around the core activity.

Aside from that I made a serious of points that apply more generally, as well as to the foresight community who were my primary targets. They included:

  • The whole success of social computing is because it conforms to the three heuristics of complex systems: finely grained objects, distributed cognition & disintermediation
  • I 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

I suggest you read the whole post for context (and humor). ¬†I could ruminate on any of these, but I have my peeps coming into town starting today for the Seattle KM4Dev Gathering (Dave, we’ll still try and tempt you!) so I’ll just say this one is my focus for the week: “Need to shift from thinking about drivers to modulators.”

As we explore next week the practice of “managing knowledge” for international development, this could be a cracking good opener… Now I need a visual. Any ideas?

3 thoughts on “Working in Complex Spaces from my Favorite Curmudgeon”

  1. Would love to join you Nancy but as you know I land late on Wednesday evening so just miss you – had I know I could have come out earlier.

    If anyone is intersted Thursday and Friday we have an ‘advanced’ programme on complexity, details on our web site and we can probably give KMDev people a ‘friends of Nancy Discount” if they ask

  2. Oh your visual …

    Think of a set of Magnets around a table and the polarity and strength of each can change
    In the middle of the table there are iron ball bearings
    If I only change one magnet, the ball bearings change patter in a predictable and repeatable way. That is called a driver in systems thinking and its what everyone wants to find thanks the obsession with linear material cause
    The trouble is the other magnets may change at the same time, so there is no repeatability
    The magnets are modulators, and a CAS is modulated not driven
    THis explains a lot of the failures to repeat practice in the development sector
    Its one of the most critical differences between systems and complexity thinking. The other big is that complexity deals with the present, the ‘situated now’ while systems thinking tries to define an ideal future state. Very different

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