Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Whose truths are these?

I keep seeing people arguing and speculating about the creation, history, authorship and ownership of the Cynefin framework, and I feel increasingly obliged to say something about it. To keep quiet seems an injustice to all parties. So I'll answer a few questions I keep seeing come up, once and for all, to the best of my recollection. Warning: these are my memories, this is my perspective. It cannot be the same as anyone else's, even if I try. (To those who have no idea what this means, hold on; a new post about e-book readers is simmering and should be done soon ;)

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.


Dave Snowden said...

No major disagreements with any of that Cynthia and I think you make the important point that the ideas that underpin both Cynefin and your Confluence model are universal.

The one fact of which you were not aware is that the 2002 paper Complex Acts, was written in one frantic weekend to reach a deadline. In order to achieve that I took a 2000 paper (see below) which contained more or less the same representation as the 2003 paper sans the tetrahedons. I had also presented that paper at the AoM in 2001 when the respondents were Boisot and Spencer. They made various criticisms which I incorporated from my notes. The 2000 paper was mostly written over Christmas 1999. So the 2002 paper is 1999/2000 vintage with the above referenced criticisms handled. I am more than willing to believe that there are elements in that in which you can see your influence as we were talking two to three times a year through the IBM story group for several years before you came to the IK, and our thinking on complexity has more in common that it had differences.

The 2003 paper was for me, as for you a great collaboration. An interesting tension at the time (my memory this time) was that I was increasingly using simple and complicated rather than known and knowable in presenting the model. That came from conversations with Boisot who suggested that the 2003 version confused ontology and epistemology; my resolution was the change. We had some useful discussions on that at the time as I remember, but your preference was for the then current version.

Referenced paper:
Snowden, D. (2000) “Cynefin, A Sense of Time and Place: an Ecological Approach to Sense Making and Learning in Formal and Informal Communities” conference proceedings of KMAC at the University of Aston, July 2000)

Cynthia Kurtz said...

Actually Dave (one more memory) I was with Boisot at first in speaking against the known/knowable names, but - here's the funny thing - you brought me round to understanding why it worked to mix (not confuse) the ontological and epistomological in one model. I grew to love it in fact and once there I could not be budged. I still think known/knowable works better, though yes it is harder to understand, because it makes the useful point that in each hemisphere (perhaps literally as I am now exploring) a different consideration/approach/view is dominant. Maybe the simple/complicated version is good for first entry, and that is important, but I think there are benefits to stepping in to something deeper in time.

On the 2002 paper I am happy to be wrong or ignorant or anything else you like. It has bothered me from time to time that the Wikipedia page says I became involved in 2003 when it was actually in 2001 and yes to some limited extent back in 1999. However that sort of thing only bothers me occasionally when I lose sight of what actually matters. When I consider what we are really talking about here, what any of us has done to contribute to this body of knowledge seems like pebbles on a mountain. What a privilege it has been just to have set foot on it.


Dave Snowden said...

and a privilege to have stepped on it with you. As an aside you might like Thagard's book on Judgement which picks up a variant of left/right (autonomic/novelty receptive). I think by the way that was about the only time you were with Boisot in any sense of the word! The ontology/epistemology discussions were interesting, and it may be worth revisiting them in some way. I have a session with a bunch of philosophers and military guys on causality in Brisbane in a few weeks time and I'm missing the conversations we used to have on new and problematic areas.

On wikipedia, the issue will be references. I spend far too much of my time there dealing with nutty US and UK representatives of the far right and its an interesting illustration of a complex adaptive system; one where the only constraint is on behaviour rather than content. Net result of that experience is knowing that citation is key, anything that goes in there has to be referenced. As a result the Wikipedia page is a history of publications in effect. I couldn't reference my own blog for example unless material from that was published in a reputable journal. I'll have a hunt in the loft when I get a chance to see if I can find an IKM journal which references your coming on board - maybe that New York conference at which you developed the butterfly stamping exercise as one of the workshop methods.

Cynthia Kurtz said...

Dave: Curious about this, I've just been doing a bit of poring over old notes looking for some precise answers as to when particular things happened. The thing I have been most intensely curious about is: when did the known/knowable/complex/chaotic labels come in? Did I help with that or didn't I? I really can't recall. After some searching through old files I finally found the answer. In a paper titled "The Intranet as a Complex Ecology" apparently published in "Content Management Review" in 2002 (though the file I found has a date of 24 January 2001) you wrote:

"One way to understand this difference and in consequence the need to bound Scientific Management, is to distinguish systems that are complicated from those which are complex. An aircraft is complicated, it contains many parts with many relationships, but all those relationships are known or knowable."

So there you go. Known or knowable. You definitely came up with the four canonical domain names before I came along. There is no Cynefin model in that paper, but the terms are all there. I also recall that it was your idea to make bubbles instead of the cross. So if anyone wants to know who created the form of Cynefin that includes those four domain names and the bubbles, it was you and you alone.

However, having said that, I find I can't entirely agree with you that the 2002 paper represents only work you did before we started working together at the IKM in 2001. I also found a transcript of a talk you gave in March 2002, dated May 2002, with the identical name to the 2002 paper (Complex Acts of Knowing: Paradox and Descriptive Self-Awareness). The transcript says I proofread it and made "minor corrections" to it, which is probably why I remembered it. The talk not only shows my influence but directly references my work on StoryML/NPML and narrative databases as well as the "Snowden and Kurtz" paper on SNS. I set the three documents side by side, and the 2002 paper bears as much resemblance to the 2002 speech as it does to the 2000 paper. My guess is that you started with the 2000 paper, then incorporated elements of the 2002 talk, which includes our work in the several workshops in 2001 as well as your discussions with Boisot and others. So I still consider myself in between contributor and co-creator of Cynefin as it was presented in the 2002 "Complex Acts of Knowing" paper, not that it matters but I wanted to know. But the fact that you had the known/knowable/complex/chaotic terms before we started working together can be in no doubt.

Does all of this matter? No, not at all. And yes.


Dave Snowden said...

We should really sit down sometime and write the history of our collaboration you know, from the first Story gGroup to DARPA, the IKM and then post IBM. Cynefin was a part of that but the narrative work was at least if not more important.

One of the most interesting aspects of that collaboration (and one you commented on at the time) was that I would develop new methods and new modelsin workshops or on the fly in keynotes with out much specific preparation. I would claim a prepared mind. You would then take that, do the research, add material often change it radically, as often come up with new ideas with the more reflective style you adopted and then we would talk/experiment/reflect/talk etc. I think the two very different styles were what made that period one of the most creative.

The known/knowable stuff actually goes back to my days in DataSciences before the IBM takeover, when I was working on new decision support and strategy methods which culminated in the Genus Programme. The bubble formation was developed in a workshop on the first occasion as were the methods for construction. Those we refined at the seminar in Singapore where you were present and a key component. (Memories flooding back now). The first Cynefin models appeared in 1999 and the first serious publication is as a chapter in "Knowledge Horizons" back in 2000. Those were in cross format, but the core concept of multiple unknowable but partially perceived histories which is the essence of Cynefin were there. That was also where I started to introduce complexity theory.

My recollection on the 2002 paper is literally writing it one weekend in early January using the 2000 paper and Boisot/Spencer notes together with the bubble which had emerged in 1999 in experimental form. It was as I recall a one whisky bottle weekend with little sleep. I used the title of the paper for a series of talks over the next two years(including the period up to its publication which includes the May event you reference) and more and more ideas were brought in to those presentation, including new references. I do think its fair to say that the biggest influence on the 2002 paper was Boisot and you can still see the I-Space elements in there (and acknowledged). I think you proof read and improved a transcript of the May talk which came after the paper was written, but I don't recall that being the case for the paper itself. I could of course be wrong, there was a final proof stage which would have been around May time but I don't have notes from that.

As you have said before, no one creates a framework or model in isolation from conversations, reading, pre-publication reviews etc. etc. All the people who participate in such processes have some claim and deserve acknowledgement. There is no question in my mind that the 2003 paper was a co-creation. It took the pre-existing Cynefin framework with its history, your new thinking on confluence and joint work on dynamics and other areas and created something that was a step change in the framework's history. There are four major periods in the history of Cynefin: (i) pre-Cynefin; (ii) Cynefin as KM/DSS (the 2002 paper); (iii) the Cynthia period and then (iv) the post-Cynthia one. For the future I don't see it changing that much. I am working on a new model that just deals with the complex domain and your recent blogs have helped my thinking there (and will be acknowledged).

To use the "Ship of Theseus" as a metaphor, You came along and we added oars, proper chalking and a gun deck to what had previously been a hull with a sail and helm and a few too many intellectual leaks/leaps. More recently in the work with Boone and others its also got a linguistic deck cabin that makes visiting managers more comfortable. Through that period its kept the name, as names carry history. Of course it did, as all ships do, attract the odd rat or two who tried to use the name for something wholly other, but that is life.

Cynthia Kurtz said...

Agree with all of this Dave, or most but I'm tired and can't summon the energy to nitpick. When I go back in my memory, some things I'm pretty sure I came up with because I remember suggesting them to you; other things I'm pretty sure you came up with because I remember you suggesting them to me. But some things I have no idea who came up with, and I'm sure for some things I have the wrong idea, or you do, or we both do. And of course there were the things where one of us came up with something and the other disregarded it until later, when they said it again and the other person said "but I said that last year!". You will remember that when you told me about your fascination with Thom's castrophe theory and the rift you wanted to put in the model between chaos and known - to my recollection that was sometime in 2002 - and I dragged out that 2001 document where I said just that (we should put a rift in here) and you ignored it, to my frustration. Now in my memory you/we added that rift sometime in 2002, but in your "origins of Cynefin" paper you say it was much earlier, before 2001 even. It would be funny (and poetic justice) if indeed Max had suggested the rift before I did and you ignored both of us at the same time. It would not be surprising and I wouldn't fault you for it either. I'm sure I'm ignoring good ideas all around me right now, because ignoring does have its function. But all in all it was a fairly typical collaboration. And yes our fire-and-ice styles were both what gave the collaboration its creativity and what ultimately led to its demise. As I always say, you can be happy you're alive or sad you're dying, take your pick, so collaborators can be happy they collaborated or sad they stopped. Or both. I think the thing that has bothered me, when it has bothered me, is that the "Cynthia period" has been seen by most as beginning on the day the ISJ paper came out in 2003, when in fact that was close to the END of the Cynthia period of intense collaboration that started in 2001. Typical history that things get ironically upended and reversed. Life has its little jokes doesn't it? In my movie of it Jodie Foster plays me (now THAT's revisionist). And now let us end this foray and get back to the future.


ironick said...

Fascinating history. I took a crack at updating the Wikipedia entry to incorporate a bit of the information in this discussion re the beginning of the collaboration. We'll see if it sticks.

Cynthia Kurtz said...

Nick: I don't know you but I like you. Thanks. That totally makes my day. It probably won't stick if what Dave says about Wikipedia is true, but just knowing somebody did what you just did is more than half of what I wanted.


Dave Snowden said...

The working together actually went back before 1999 and carried on after IBM so I made that clearer in the Wikipedia entry. If I have in effect confirmed it by editing it may stick anyway, although the page is on watch by some of the far right and unionist editors I have offended over the years and who regularly vandalize my own Wikipedia entry.

I also agree its time to move on, we have clarified this and I see from his blog today that Tom, who was the person behind your original opening sentence has moved on to accept our exchange above which is good news.

I agree that history never easily divides into clear periods, but historians do create periods around significant events, as I did in effect with papers for the history of Cynefin. However no event in history is ever distinct it is a part of a flow of which it is as most a nexus point. I don't think I ever put anything in a paper or formal model without trying it out with audiences for at least at year to see what worked and to get the wording right. Once something was written I always (and still do) regret not waiting just a few months longer, something which has always inhibited the book.

Sometimes ideas also go through multiple cycles; Its over a decade since Max and I worked with the plane model of Cynefin (with the rift) which we originally drew on a table cloth in a Sitges cafe or a conference room at that Washington hotel at an Academy meeting. I doubt either of us remember, we are now back working on a paper based on a variant of it. I do remember it was about the only thing from Max that you liked!

I remember you talking about "fattening" a process of intense reading from which ideas would emerge. I always envied you that ability, for me the equivalent was throwing ideas in front of people in workshops of conferences and seeing what happened which always took longer.

Fire and Ice describes it well and the field needs both, maybe a time will come where that intensity and difference can create a third paper to add to our two. Always open on that, but not if you are casting me as Anthony Hopkins your Jodie Foster.

Cynthia Kurtz said...

Dave, if by "The working together actually went back before 1999" you mean OUR working together, that could not be true, since I didn't know you from Adam before I met you in the summer of 1999. You put in Wikipedia "Kurtz had worked with Snowden as a part of an IBM special interest group on narrative for several years before joining the IKM" - true but actually it was just two years, the two years I worked (as a temp tech writer, on paper) at IBM Research with John Thomas. Also, I didn't really "join" the IKM, I just got work there as a contractor, which is another thing entirely. Similarly I was never "in" Cognitive Edge but was an independent contractor from its creation up until 2009. In contrast you were never NOT inside the things I looked into from the outside, though you never did what you were supposed to, which is a point in your favor. It's just possible our insider-outsider differences improved our collaborative output. It's like we were those two guys standing on either side of the fences that make good neighbors.

I liked many things Max said. I just got stuck on that supremely insulting graph in the first pages of Knowledge Assets where he said hunter-gatherers use little information. Thinking of it still makes my fur bristle. There were also some misunderstandings and distortions of evolutionary theory, and various other ideological differences, all of which led me to look at the rest of what he said with a jaundiced eye. However I'm sure there is much of merit to be found in what he says. I can be as arrogant a bastard as anybody else, of course.

As to Sir Hopkins, I didn't watch that movie. I've never understood the horror genre; reality is scary enough to meet my fear needs. Jodie Foster is my age and often depicts brainy yet shall-we-say unique women; I was thinking mainly of the movie Nell, and less so Contact. (By the way, the end of the movie Contact is entirely WRONG and leaves out the GEM at the end of the book. Must broadcast that message every chance I get.) Besides Dave, one iron-clad rule of imaginary biopics is that you get to choose your own actor. I'm not allowed to cast you and you aren't allowed to cast me. Read the rule book, it's all in there.


Dave Snowden said...

I made another tweek, hopefully that makes better. I am not sure Wikipedia is up to the subtleties of contractor/employee differences and these days most people end up on contracts anyway. I do remember that the minute Wendy tipped us off that the Research contract was not going to be renewed Judith and I immediately took steps to secure you a replacement with IKM and I managed to keep that running (with some hiccups) after my own internal contract with the IKM was abruptly terminated with the formation of the IBV.

I think a lot of senior people in IBM would be very amused by the notion that I was ever on the "inside" and they would never have employed me if I had not been "acquired" with DataSciences and managed to get some top cover. I was on the verge of being fired three times, and once, when even my top cover thought the cause lost, only saved by being invited to teach a class with Drucker; without that I would have been on the streets. So we started from different places in IBM but neither of us ever really belonged there, both of us did and said what we thought was right and were prepared to take the consequences. Fortunately for both of us people outside of IBM saw the value, as did a few in IBM. I also think that we both rejected a lot of the conventions of academic progress, but commonalities aside its the differences which keep things interesting and productive.

I am very pleased that "Silence of the Lambs" was not in your mind with the Jodie Foster reference. I've never been able to watch it by the way, although I tried twice. As to the rules of imaginary biopics, as was not aware of their existence but now I am I will of course abide by them. I think I would go with literature if I needed my equivalent and it would probably be a character from Trollope, Mann or Anthony Powell.

Imaginary Time said...

Fresh out of Cognitive Edge Accreditation, this blog exchange on the origins of Cynefin would've made interesting workshop material for Anecdote Circles, Future Backwards, Archetype Extraction, and constructing the Cynefin framework on the Origins of Cynefin.

I also think it wouldn't hurt to throw you guys into a round or two of Ritual Dissent.

Regarding the history of the Cynefin, how it all came into being is an interesting narrative, but for a practitioner like me, the details aren't that important from the point of view of practise. I know Cynefin is the product of several years of work by Dave, Cynthia, and others. Who came up with what is interesting only in the academic sense of documenting the development history. For you guys personally, it obviously means more.

Having said that, knowing the creators of Cynefin is important from the point of view of academic credibility, but that's been established well enough, I think.

Still, a fascinating origins story, and from where I'm standing, seems like there indeed is a third paper between you two, yet to see the light of day.

Cynthia Kurtz said...

Dave: Yes yes yes, you were never an insider. I knew that would rankle you. If we are allowed to choose literary characters I throw off Jodie Foster. I am Prince Myshkin all the way. (No, that does not imply any corresponding character.) Now please stop commenting so I can have the last word. I am a woman after all.

Mr. Time: Thanks for your comment. The exchange was not intentional (indeed I was dragged into it, pretty much) but was probably necessary. I'm glad it has been informative. We could go round on some (but not all) of those techniques as well. Archetypes are one hundred percent Dave's, they were one of his best ideas ever and still continue to deliver. As to your last point, they have a saying in evolutionary theory: impossible things are guaranteed to happen if you wait long enough. But that generally means billions of years. :)


Mika Latokartano said...

I actually didn't realise that the comment was posted under my nickname, instead of my real name. Didn't mean to hide my identity.

I like the saying you quoted, and there's another one along (well, sorta) those lines by Sir Terry Pratchett:

"Million-to-one chances crop up nine times out of ten." :)