Knolwdege as Narrative (Again)

Didn’t spot this post from July by Dave Pollard, discussing and quoting from Dave Snowden’s “Masterclass”, until a cross-hit today.

Usual stuff – analysis of “official” business processes leads to duff decision – no, really ? The unofficial business (in this case rest-break exchanges, but classically the “water-cooler meeting ” or “elevator pitch” idea) exhanged more real knowledge than any formal process – for cultural (anthropological) reasons as much as the mechanics – you can’t beat a good (apochryphal) story or distorted gossip to get the real meaning.

This story is about (non-specific) public-sector workers. James Willis work is full of similar anecdotes (ie truth) from a life of UK health-care experience, and I’ve seen others cite health-care management examples in a Dave Snowden context before. (Which reminds me I have a Bruce Charlton paper to review.) Personally, the power of unoficial narrative in setting the cultural basis for how an organisation (actually) works was a part of my 1980’s thesis. Yet again – nothing new under the sun.

Wake up from the meme dream and smell the hypocrisy.

The meme dream is that simple cause and effect models (using things we can easily see and measure – objectively, whatever that means) can be used to make decisions and to attribute success or failure in previous decision outcomes. The hypocrisy is we all keep using this view of the world despite the fact we all know it’s wrong. Reality is that human affairs (business, politics or otherwise) have little to do with classical “scientific” logic, and everything to do with complex systems. Outcomes are emergent, not causal in any “proximate” sense. Humans recognise truth lies in interesting stories, metaphors, aphorism, jokes etc, whereas logical argument may be objectively true, but can somehow seem wrong. (“Jawohl, 100% correct, 10 out of 10, useless” – as Doc, a mentor of mine, used to say some 20 years ago. BTW Jeff, another mentor from the same period, also use to say, “Write it down, one day you’ll want to write a book” – but that’s another story)

How do we turn “somehow seem” into a useful and credible toolset ? It’s currently so politically incorrect to treat an “objective” fact, as being of no practical significance. That’s where Dave Snowden is, and that’s why I like his “Cynefin“.

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