Thursday, October 13, 2005

Dave snowden on complexity in IT development(Cynefin)

The technology question: Demand, Supply or Co-evolution
Only 1 message in topic - view as tree

This post summarises for me Daves approach and thinking on this topic, the whole idea of enabling conditions can be taken much further.

From: [] On Behalf Of
Dave Snowden
Sent: Wednesday, 12 October 2005 9:01 PM
Subject: [act-km] The technology question: Demand, Supply or Co-evolution

Maybe it would be helpful to think about enabling conditions rather than
drivers and about a different view of the traditional concepts of supply and
demand. My own work on strategy (and on the development of related software
tools) is increasingly making a distinction in scenario planning between
causal events and enabling events. The normal de facto position is to
create a string of events on the assumption that early events caused the
following event, in practice it is often the case that a certain event made
many other events possible, but the one that happened is then assumed to be
"caused". It's a western concept, this desire to see a reason for things,
most eastern philosophies have the concept of a non-causal system in which
some things just "are" which ironically

If we look at the development of KM in the mid and late nineties then I
think it is true to say that one of the enabling events was the growth of
collaborative technologies. Lotus Notes took the early lead in this and was
(and is) to my mind one of the outstanding collaborative tools.
Unfortunately whoever became responsible for its strategy focused on
competing with Microsoft as an e-mail package, rather than making the case
for "many to many" rather than "one to one" communication. As a result
Notes development and sales/marketing strategy suffered accordingly and of
recent years its decline is becoming self evident. E-mail is now the
antithesis of a productivity tool. The internet itself as active business
tool is to all intents and purposes less than ten years old and anyone with
any knowledge of history will know that you cannot assume that things will
carry on "as is": scalability is not infinitely extendible, things change
and can often change very quickly.

That leads me to the main point. Technology creates the possibilities for
things that we have not thought of before. The earliest ever commercial
computer was used to store the telephone directory of an American city (IBM
1954 and IBM announced a world market for 6 computers), we then moved over
the next 40 years into a DEMAND led use of technology in which existing
manual systems were computerized. The methods of system design and project
management grew out of this period of known need and we have been suffering
from that history in recent times in that such approaches slow down
development when the need is not fully known. In the eighties we started to
move into the SUPPLY period, in which technology capability led market need.
In this period it is fair to say that technology was a "driver" of KM
programmes. The dot com bust was one of the more significant indicators
(but not the only one) of the end of this period.

We are now in a CO-EVOLUTIONARY period in which business needs and
technology capability are interacting in ways that we do not fully
understand, but new applications are emerging from that evolutionary
interaction. One of the consequences of this which is little understood is
that we need to stop designing "applications" in which users say what they
want and technologists build to order, or for that matter buying standard
packages (ERP) and changing human systems to conform. We need to really
pick up something that was surfacing back in the 80's namely object
orientation. Here you design objects that receive and distribute services
and can be controlled by workflow (yes I know this is a crude statement but
it is the essence); the application then emerges from the interaction of
people and business needs with those objects.

It's a very different design strategy, and its one of the reasons why many
of us are interested in complexity science as it gives a theoretical base to
understand what is going on. One of the problems is that IT design
processes are still locked in the demand and/or supply periods. Since
leaving IBM a part of my work has been to create a new software company,
building tools based on my and colleagues ideas. It is object orientated,
but I have to stay constantly alert to developers who want me to provide
"use cases" so that they can build applications, not objects. The idea that
you start to provide general purpose software objects evolve in use is alien
to a generation trained on the inadequacies of the early days of computing.
Its also given rise to this terrible dichotomy in KM between "technology"
and "culture" when in practice the two are intertwined. In a recent book
chapter in the context of narrative Gary and I called these two extremes the
Techno-fabulists and the Art-Luddites. Those familiar with my more strident
views on the conference stage will recognize the techno-fetishists and new
age fluffy bunnies in a more academic disguise.

sense making + narrative + networks
The Cynefin Centre
David Snowden
51 Lockeridge
United Kingdom
mobile: +44 7795 437293

Saturday, July 02, 2005


Carolyn Dare convinced me that relationships formed on line (without ever meeting ech other) can be as strong and full of trust as face to face relationships.

On thursday night at the second openbc belgium event (great food from soul food for thought) the air under the Cinquantenaire arch had a buzz to it, the theme was art in business and various artists performed, displayed or mimed their art; brilliant; it must be part of what is missing from the out of balance financial wealth creating world.

Even more amazing was Milena Djekova, a famous (one of the top 5 best known) Bulgarian...
Her violin playing electrified the audience, and her energy cascaded through the room - wonderful to feel.

I'm torn between meeting new 'contacts' and catching up on existing ones, curiosity and familiarity competing. In the end i just went with the flow and spent some time with Milena and some new and older friends.

At one point i heard my self say that Milena could try 'feeling good about her body (she has pneumonia) and then her body might feel good about her', it seemed to open a 'in' channel - momentarily.

Thanks to everybody for the energy input; great.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

the deepest voice

show the way to create wealth (widest definition; learning, knowledge, relationships, money & money equivalents) in an ethically sustainable, organic and collective way; enabling both collective and individual potential to be achieved, demonstrating how to learn from and adapt to our natural environment, using all mankind's and natures resources in an efficient and renewable way'

Widget blogging

Its supposed to be as easy as loading the widget and posting your blog.

I think i've worked out to do the sum sign correctly.

So you hit the post button and

Monday, May 23, 2005

organic matters

On the organic front, i think we are at the discovery or emergent phase, i have no clear plan as to how to proceed first, only a strong feeling that there is a wave of energy building for a different type of work experience, which is not dominated by money or financial invetsment or bureaucratic decisions.

The challenge is to allow people to live and grow in an environment which is conducive to building energy, knowledge and then wealth, through positive balanced relationships, where the collective energy and intelligence is made available for sustainable growth, continuously adjusting to the internal and external environment; where individual and group cycles or wavelengths are respected and where money is kept in its perspective , like blood. You need it, it needs to be in good condition and supply, but you don't live your life in function of your blood pressure or blood count analysis.

The ideas at present cover
a) managing/buying/creating companies using organic methods, (here's where the organic investment fund comes in, however it is formed)
b) setting up an organic training centre for apprentice and experienced gardeners,
c) creating a balancing centre for both individuals and groups, using holistic and 'alternative' (i would say natural/organic) methods and treatments and
d) creating a community of practitioners and teachers of organic methods to grow the glue that will help hold it together yet let it grow in function of its environment

Ria found the following, rather good i think.....

There is no coïncidence; so look what I read in this book of Finite and infinite games:
in the chapter: We control nature for societal reasons

""Garden" does not refer to the bounded plot at the edge of the house or the margin of the city. This is not a garden one lives beside, but a garden one lives within. It is a place of growth, of maximized spontaneity. To garden is not to engage in a hobby or an amusement; it is to design a culture capable of adjusting to the widest possible rang of surprise in nature. Gardeners are acutely attentive to the deep patterns of natural order, but are also aware that there will always be much lying beyond their vision. Gardening is a horizon-al activity.
Machine and garden are not absolutely opposed to each other. Machinery can exist in the garden quite as finite games can be played within an infinite game. The question is not one of restricting machines from the garden but asking whether a machine serves the interest of the garden, or the garden the interest of the machine."

"The most elemental difference between the machine and the garden is that one is driven by a force which must be introduced from without, the other grown by an energy which originates from within itself."

"But no machine has been made, nor can one be made, that has the source of its spontaniety within itself. A machine must be designed, constructed, and fueled."

"But no way has been found, or can be found, by which organic growth can be forced from without."

"Though we seem to give it "fuel" in the form of rich earth and appropriate nutrients, we depend on the plant to make use of the fuel by way of its own vitality."

"Vitality cannot be given, only found."

Quite a few pieces of the puzzle have been arriving recently, including our conversations. Just the other day i met a friend of mine who was working in a non-organic environment, he was grey with stress, had a boil on his leg and had difficulty concentrating.
I really believe its time to plant these seeds now and create an environment that doesn't eat people up like this, but enables them to flourish and find a wavelength that suits their phase of development.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005


The name O={R° is as close as my keyboard gets to "an organisation is equal to the sum of its relationships to the power of the trust in the relationships" (the ° should be a superscript t but it doesn't mind standing in.)

More to follow, about complexity, human relationships, trust, energy, story telling, cynefin, interim management, gardening, communities, wealth creation, interventions, power, women, male egos, coaching organisations and individuals, and being what you think you are.

here is a story to be getting on with;

The short story of Scarlet Belgium or how three became one,

or A+B+C =D or chicken.

Executive summary.

This is the story of merging three disparate Belgian telecom, data and internet companies into one, using the Cynefin approach.

It highlights how a complex and failing merger was made sense of, and resolved through the use of emergent techniques, narrative analysis, multiple attractors, social network analysis, heuristic interventions and communities.

NETnet was a small 35 man Belgian Telco, invoicing 60,000 customers’ calls, using the incumbent’s network, and making a happy profit. One day, having been bought by Scarlet, a Dutch Telco of a similar but bigger nature, they bought the Belgian daughter of KPN, 150 people (from 600 at their zenith) - mostly engineers, with serious corporate data and voice products and their own network of fibre optics, but not making a profit. This was followed by its sister company Planet Internet Belgium. Planet had about 100 people (down from 240) and was probably the best residential Internet provider in Belgium, with great products, service and brand, but definitely not making a profit.

The Vikings conquered northern Britain with a famous strategy which lives on today; raping and pillaging. There weren’t many Vikings, and they overcame and controlled a much bigger population. NETnet managers (not yet feeling themselves to be Scarlet), equally outnumbered, employed a similar method, without the blood or lawbreaking but using fear, confusion, and high impact gestures to reduce a loss of some 2.5m€ per month, to near breakeven in the first six months.

Although the finances were going in the right direction, people were not, they either had their heads down in safe bunkers or they were leaving fast. The war between the three factions was mainly guerrilla, but discussed by everybody, it consumed most of the organisations energy and attention.

I arrived at this point to find the dominant story being ‘this mess is going bust fast’ and ‘we’re all out of a job’; the task of integrating the three businesses and their processes, had not started, six months after the takeover.

It’s really complex, I told a friend, asking for her ideas, unable to find any case studies or rules on how to get these three companies integrated into one.

Cynefin seemed an appropriate choice, there was no consultant’s recipe or best practice on the subject; the number of variables was high, multiple perspectives everywhere and the outcome extremely uncertain. Using emergent methods, to define the archetypes characterising the problems, provided a way forward.

In fact there were many more than the three main perspectives, as the various communities and their stories emerged during lunch, coffee machine and one to one discussions. I soon had to go to the shareholders to say that no integration was going to happen whilst these factions were locked in battle; the active archetypes were all negative.

As a result the owners decided to ask the bosses of the factions to leave and to ask me to be the Interim COO.

I am an Interim executive, and Cynefin has enabled me to explain how I work. It helped made sense of the situation to the owners, and showed a way to move forward.

Becoming the boss is a problem though, whereas before I could collect stories easily, now the flow dried behind the perceived hierarchical barrier of ‘talking to the boss’.

In order to disrupt this conditioned response, I used multiple attractors; free sandwich lunches, breakfast meetings, tea times, Friday lunch question times, wandering around and moving my ‘office’ from place to place. The flow of narrative was important to sense where the communities’ opinions were headed and to develop heuristics on how these people were ever going to feel part of one company.

One of the most successful methods was to push a tea trolley around the building twice a week, inviting the people where I landed up to tea and cake, along with their neighbours. It was at one of these teas that the ABCD theme emerged, and it was soon clear that people were responding to the idea of building ‘D’, and leaving their A or B or C behind. Not building Scarlet, that was still a bad word, but the more neutral D.

Soon we had ‘D’ architecture and applications coming from the IT developers, D process groups, D budgets and so on. It became the D story.

The D period lasted about 6 months, illustrated every couple of weeks with a communication session, to 50 or 60 people, with stories of my sons bloody knees learning to ride his bike, with storm reform perform stories, and even gardening stories as we re-organised repeatedly.

The ‘we’re going bust’ line was killed off by feeding the unions with numbers of improving performance and consolidated results that put the old legal entities out of the spotlight.

The next challenge was the low level of trust in the relationships around the company, tea times helped, believe it or not, just to introduce people to one another and to get them to talk to the opposition as a person, over a cup of tea. The number of valid relationships was a problem in itself, tainted as they were by the Viking period, and by older stereotype stories between B and C.

Complexity workshops helped too, explaining the nature of complexity to the engineers so they could see that there wasn’t necessarily always a black or white answer, and that other mindsets might help in handling the complexity around us.

As always, the key internal storytellers played an important role in raising trust levels and building new relationships across the old communities. The nodal points in the various networks, l brought these people together to tell each other their own variants of the D story.

Work on the technical integration work was about half way, when a new challenge appeared. The launch of a new technology platform, ‘Voice over DSL’, both for the corporate and retail markets. The negative reactions quickly started again, ‘too early’, ‘suicide’ and ‘madness’ amongst the favourites. Vodsl, as the project was called, was lead by a traditional time driven Dutch project manager, who gave rise to his own brand of charismatic stories. After considerable investment in reframing and positive messages, more story work around transparency and tackling the negative stories head on, belief and trust slowly ebbed back into workplace stories and relationships.

There was still no Scarlet identity, D had done its job, Vodsl had focussed attention but Scarlet wasn’t happening. A group started up called fun@scarlet. Encouraged by a budget from a % of savings on costs, they set about organising events; brewery trips are good in Belgium, along with whisky sponsored putting competitions (a favourite), and several more cultural events, but Scarlet as collective identity had no critical mass.

Over the year we had recruited about 25 new people up and down the organisation, part of building confidence (and competence). After 3 months investment of time and energy, the new Retail Director had united sales and marketing from three to one, but he didn’t stick. The Holding kept changing the rules and the basis of his job as he saw it, so he left, leaving a bigger hole than before he started, and no practical plan for launching Vodsl.

So the complexity level increased again, not for the first time. How were we to launch a product (free calls on fix lines in Belgium, ADSL and a mobile simcard for 49.95€/m) with no budget, no agency, little distribution, no ideas and no organisational belief or trust?

Weak signals were emerging. It was becoming clear that women, who control at least 60% of domestic budget in Belgium, could be the decision makers and thus the target of our retail launch. This story produced a contact who came from a small, all women, advertising company, and despite warnings of how difficult we were to work with, they came on board with an idea developed from a creative tea time we had held a week before.

The cartoon chickens had Scarlet logos on their heads, and were all talking into a red phone, with a strap line of ‘at last clucking is for free’. They looked great on the posters, the radio campaign really caught the ear, and the chicken clucked their way to the women’s magazines.

Scarlet happened. Real white chicken with red combs even appeared on the grass in front of the building, almost everybody inside loved them, and people were finally proud to work for Scarlet. A real life example of small things having a large impact.

The epilogue (early 2005) is that 25,000 new customers have signed up and my successor’s problems are now of too much success…..

Tuesday, May 10, 2005


currently puzzling with 'now that we've met what is our work'
I'm sure this is important to the next place to go, a new community creating wealth in a humanist way?, redefining the capitalist model where money ousted people, or just helping people and organisations to make sense of the complexity and to grow and survive the cyclical nature of evolution,