So, am I the co-creator of Cynefin or a contributor? That depends on what you mean by Cynefin. If you mean the form of Cynefin that existed before I started working with Dave Snowden at the IBM Insitute for Knowledge Management (IKM) in April of 2001, no, I am certainly not its co-creator. I believe Dave showed a version of these early Cynefins in his "history of Cynefin" paper. In the earliest versions of Cynefin it related mainly to learning, KM and communities. This is why in my post about Cynefin last summer I said I had helped Dave with "his" Cynefin model. To be honest, I had a very hard time writing that word "his." It took me months to do it, but I'm glad I did. It was right. Dave did have something he called the Cynefin model before I started working with him, and it would be churlish to pretend what he had before I came along didn't matter. It was not what it is now, but it was something, it was something good, and it was his something.
Now, if by Cynefin you mean the version of Cynefin in the 2002 "Complex Acts of Knowing" paper, I consider myself in between co-creator and contributor. Dave and I had been working on the model together for a year before he wrote the paper, and I can see signs of my influence there; but I can also see that much of it is Dave's own thinking. Our worlds were beginning to leak into each other, you could say, at that point. I first drew my seeing-eye pyramids in April or May of 2001, and that as well as many discussions and experiments had an impact on how the model evolved. But we each had our own separate thoughts too. (I had been working in the areas of narrative and complexity for some time, in graduate school and later at IBM Research, and was interested in where these worlds came together.) As I recall it, our first presentation of the framework in its known, knowable, complex, chaotic form, with the bubble domains, was at an IKM member workshop in June or July of 2001. Dave and I collaborated heavily before, during and after that workshop and several others in the fall of 2001, and much of what became the stable Cynefin arose during that collaboration. But I did not write any of the 2002 paper. At the time it never occurred to me to ask to be included as an author (as a contractor I was far too low in the social hierarchy at IBM to even consider it). There is a reference in the paper to a "Snowden and Kurtz" paper on social network stimulation, which I did write but which never got published.
Finally, if by Cynefin you mean the form of the framework that appears in the 2003 IBM Systems Journal paper, yes, I definitely consider myself its co-creator. What is in that paper is substantially the same as what we presented and used in 2001, but there were small refinements during those two years as we began to collaborate more and more strongly. The 2003 paper was actually cut down from double the size for publication and it involved a pretty equal contribution of ideas - and one of the best back-and-forth collaborations I've ever experienced - over months. I did write most of the text, but that's only because I had more time to write because I wasn't flying around giving keynote speeches, which I hate doing.
People have told me they wondered whether it means anything that I'm first author on that 2003 paper. It does to me. My recollection is that Dave offered me first authorship to make up for the fact that he was able to make many keynote speeches and present the framework in person to many audiences, who naturally assumed it was his own. I wasn't very comfortable with that imbalance, and said so, so we agreed that I would be first in print and he would be first in presentation. Over the years I have consoled myself for the many mentions of "Snowden's Cynefin framework" with the fact that I am the first author on the most often cited paper about it. It is silly of me to care about it, I know, but I do care, and I appreciate it when people get the author order right.
As I wrote about last summer, at some point I decided to take my toys and go home, and my old/new confluence framework stands alone. It's happy that way. The collaboration was fruitful for a while, but it ended, and Dave went on to collaborate with other people, as I did.
So, take your pick. If you want me to be either "just a contributor" or a full co-creator I hereby give you permission to believe either you like. You can of course follow this exercise through for every other person who has had an impact on the Cynefin framework, including maybe some I don't even know about. This is probably true for any framework that has ever been published. Several people have already helped me with "my" confluence framework, in discussion and feedback. Are they collaborators, contributors or co-creators? Sure, yes, whatever you like. The distinctions only make sense if you believe in owning ideas at all, which I don't.
To repeat myself for the tenth time, my view is that ideas are like whales that let us swim along if we behave ourselves. Part of behaving ourselves is not putting ropes on them. They might seem tame for a while but that's just an illusion. Wait a few hundred years and see if that rope is still there. Did Darwin discover natural selection all by himself? Was Bell the inventor of the telephone? What did Tesla do? Who built the first computer? Depends on who you ask, doesn't it? So why ask? I'm more interested in the whale.
Now, having handled the trivial issues, here is the only question I really care about. Who is the true first creator of the Cynefin framework? Again, it depends. If by Cynefin you mean the thing you draw that way with those names to it, it is Dave Snowden and nobody else. But if by Cynefin you mean the essential truths it conveys, it is not Dave or anybody born this side of Tutankhamun, but countless and nameless ancient people who saw what human life was all about and passed it on for thousands of years. And maybe it goes even deeper than that ...
I wasn't quite ready to write about this yet, but I've been reading an excellent book called The Master and His Emissary by Iain McGilchrist. It is about the way our left and right brains process the world. It is Cynefin all over, or confluence all over, or the medicine wheel or anything you like. The left-brain right-brain stuff has settled down from its first outlandish claims to a more nuanced understanding, and McGilchrist summarises the research very well. To put it briefly: our two brain hemispheres have different responsibilities, approaches, personalities almost when it comes to dealing with reality. The right hemisphere (left hand) is vigilant and handles breadth. It watches for predators and conspecifics and large patterns in the environment. It watches things emerge, seeds desired patterns, disrupts undesired patterns, thinks out of the box, considers all angles - get it? The left hemisphere (right hand) is intent and handles focus. It picks out which grains of dirt are food. It categorises and sorts, finds best practices, repeats experiments, tests, proves. These two ways of looking at the world work together to help us survive and thrive, and they go back all the way to the birds and fish.
A few tantalizing quotes from the introduction (only because it's the only thing I can find online to copy and paste from - much more meat in later chapters):
One of the more durable generalisations about the hemispheres has been the ﬁnding that the left hemisphere tends to deal more with pieces of information in isolation, and the right hemisphere with the entity as a whole, the so-called Gestalt...
It seems that they [the two hemispheres] coexist together on a daily basis, but have fundamentally different sets of values, and therefore priorities, which means that over the long term they are likely to come into conﬂict. Although each is crucially important, and delivers valuable aspects of the human condition, and though each needs the other for different purposes, they seem destined to pull apart.
...the relationship between the hemispheres does not appear to be symmetrical, in that the left hemisphere is ultimately dependent on, one might almost say parasitic on, the right, though it seems to have no awareness of this fact. Indeed it is ﬁlled with an alarming self-conﬁdence."Alarming self-confidence" seems an apt way to describe the rigid structures of best practices and all of the business acronyms we love to hate.
So what I'm thinking now is, maybe this is what ties the grandmother medicine wheel and all her grandchildren together. Maybe our truths are not truths about what is out there but truths about what is in here. Maybe this is what we are, and what we are is what makes our world what it is. I have yet to finish reading this (long but wonderful) book, and will write about it when I have something to say about it, but I wonder if the grandmother medicine wheel may have her own grandparents who came long before her and started the whole thing going. Now that's ownership worth exploring.