Thanks to Yi Tan Podcast on Dave Snowden's Cynefin

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , ,

Last week Jerry Mikcalsky’s Yi Tan Technology Community podcast was a discussion with Dave Snowden regarding his Complexity Framework Cynefin may have been the epiphany of the year for me. Jerry’s e-mail announcement provided background information so the conversation would have some depth of understanding needed to frame a good understanding (the email content is on the podcast page).

I can not begin to explain the incredible value I derived from this session (oh, but I'll try). I have been a tangential fan of Dave Snowden’s blog and shared work at Cognitive Edge for quite a few years. A lot of my understandings for how people share information and interact with each other in face-to-face environments as well as in digital environments have reached conclusions that are quite near Dave Snowden’s frameworks. When I present, write about, or talk to others about my understandings formed around social and interactions (based on 22 years of working in tech environment, 16 years working with social software and services, and the education foundations set in liberal arts with a heavy focus on communication theory and organizational communications as well public policy in grad school with its social analytics and economic frames) I often get asked if I am familiar with Dave Snowden’s work. I have tried jumping in mid-stream reading many blog posts and articles pointed to, as well as following him on many social fronts. I have met him briefly at KM World events, but had never been able to sit in on one of his sessions.

The Yi Tan mailing and podcast finally gave me the foundation and understanding that made the last 6 to 8 years of my work click together. I understood why people asked if I was familiar with Snowden’s work. Much of where I have ended up seems like it is a perfect riff on Cynefin, but I was not fully familiar with it. But, the part I love the most is the framing of the visual model with unordered elements of chaos and complexity; ordered elements of simplicity and complicated; and disorder.

In 2005 I stumbled my way into an intellectual affair with complexity and agent based models as much of what I was seeing evolve in social tools and seemed wildly beyond the bounds of emergent fell neatly into complexity model thinking. But, I knew the world did not all fall into complexity modeling as and when including complexity (high level introduction to it) in presentations and workshops I used a social software example (see Social Software Design for One - slide 70) that progressed from a personal use service, a simple but not fully functional social tool that worked for serendipitous finding of things, to a mature social tool where search and social interactions would lead to finding and sharing of useful information and work optimally, and finally to a complex social system with edge models that were valuable, but outside of the core focus, functionality and use. With this in mind and at the core of my thinking I was predisposed to Cynefin.

Having seen Snowden’s YouTube introduction and having read the Harvard Business Review article “A Leader’s Framework for Decision Making” the podcast was the perfect thing to tip my understanding to bring not only Dave Snowden’s understanding into clear understanding, but also I could see my own understandings and what were fuzzy interconnections between things with razor sharp clarity of understanding. For the last 5 years or longer I have been working around the intersection of businesses and social software and social interaction design as my main focus. One frustration has been all the years of experience managing, building, maintaining, iterating, and living with the problems and pain of social tools built up over 16 years or so was it was very clear social software is anything but simple. For social software to work well it needs to be complicated to manage the complexity of not only human social interactions, but where it intersects with business it must embrace the multitudes of overlapping social interactions and cultures in an organization, all while keeping the interface as simple and easy to use as possible.

The last 5 years I’ve run across organization after organization looking at Web 2.0 services and wanting to bring that type of service in house, but most who come to this from a Web 2.0 understanding are thinking in terms of simplicity and have the impression that this stuff is relatively easy and any tool will suffice (vendors early into their offerings also commonly make the same mistake and don’t quite get around to doing the really hard work for 2 or 3 years to start getting their products closer to what is needed by social realities and business realities). Most organizations end up six months to one year in really baffled and concerned as the tools do not perform as they expected and how people are using them (or not) is drastically different and this is often when I get potential customers from a year prior coming to me for help (often very short on budget and short on tolerance). Stewart Mader calls this the “one year club” (this is turning into a podcast with Stewart, myself, Euan Semple, and Megan Murray) as this realization is very common as very few people grasp how complicated and complex this endeavor is as well as how important the tools are and need to map to filling in for an organizations needs. Yes, the tools do matter a lot and they are not all equals as they are all quite different.

Having had Dave Snowden’s work gel and has made all of this much clearer and more valuable. Thank you Jerry and Dave for the Yi Tan podcast!