Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Into the archives again

Somebody once told me that somebody else said something interesting about me. "Keep your eye on her," they said, "She's a crackerjack." I've always wondered what that meant. Am I a confection or a conflagration? Can I be both? Is there a prize?

Here's a joke my dad used to tell. On the wedding day, as soon as the ceremony was over, the bridegroom rushed up to his father-in-law. "You told me that when I married your daughter I'd be getting a prize," said the bridegroom. "Where is it?"

So anyway, last week I realized that the clutter in my office had once again reached a post-apocalyptic level. I decided that on Monday I would stop and clean. Monday did not cooperate. It rained all day, which meant that my usual practice -- taking all the junk outside, vacuuming and dusting, then finding a new way to squeeze all the junk back in again -- wouldn't work. So I fell into looking through a stack of old notebooks. I found a bunch of interesting things I had forgotten about, and I thought, "I wonder if the readers of my blog might also find these things interesting, in an archaeological kind of way." So I scanned in some pages to show you. To anyone who is interested in my early work on sensemaking with the Cynefin and Confluence frameworks: here you go, have fun. To anyone who has no idea what I'm talking about: come back next time, because this is going to be boring.

Maybe I should explain about the notebooks. I've gone back and forth between the computer and paper notebooks since my college days, depending on whether I had a computer or not. When I started working for IBM's Institute for Knowledge Management in early 2001, I was asked to travel a lot, but I was not given a laptop to take with me. (My title was "Project Manager," which was no better or worse than my earlier title of "Senior Software Engineer" in IBM Research. When I left IBM Research I had to give back my IBM-supplied laptop, and as I recall, the IKM was under a "capital spending freeze" at the time.)

So I started carrying around paper notebooks. I did most of my thinking in them, and I had them with me for nearly every discussion and meeting. I have a series of nine of these notebooks, starting in May 2001 and stopping in late 2003 (when I stopped traveling because I had a child). I seem to have lost the April 2001 notebook, sadly. I may have put it into the "to file" pile, which fills up five boxes. I have lots of stuff on the computer, too, but these hand-written notes are somehow more interesting to look at, because they're more of-the-moment. I promise I've kept myself to a bare minimum, and have thought about what you might want to see, and not just what I feel like reminiscing about. Mostly.

First movements. May 16, 2001. One of the first things in the first notebook (I can find) is this hint of movements-to-come on the Cynefin framework.

It says: "connectivity variety information flow maintain identity"
There are many, possibly hundreds, of drawings of movements that came after this one, but I'm pretty sure the idea of change over time playing out in space was in there from the very beginning. (Not the beginning; my beginning. Thoughts were had before I had thoughts.) This came even before the "bubble" model of Cynefin. (What does that thing on the left mean? I have no idea. You figure it out.)

First bubbles. May 16, 2001. This was, I believe, the very first drawing I ever made of the "neuronal" or "bubble" form of Cynefin.

First bubbles
It says: "spaces not axes"

I remember very well when this happened, for some reason (who knows why we remember some things and not others). We were at a hotel in New York City, at an IKM workshop. It was before the workshop started or in a break. We were in one of those huge hotel meeting rooms, in the front left corner of the room, in front of an easel with butcher paper on it. I was going on about how it didn't matter that you said something wasn't a 2x2 model when people could look at it and see that it was a 2x2 model. I said that if you lay out a space and give it dimensions, people will see it as a graph no matter what you call it. I said that if you want to talk about states, you need a diagram, not a space.

So Dave said, "What about this?" and drew the bubbles. I think I copied the drawing into my notebook right away. Did I like the bubbles? Not really. By then I was already enamored of my continuous-space model (which became Confluence), and everything else seemed worse. But I liked the bubbles more than the four quadrants.

Lots of domain names. May 18-24, 2001. These two pictures are just to show you that we were working through many possible domain names (not internet domains, just spaces on the model) for Cynefin at that time.

The top model says "understanding" and "known/knowable/retrospectively coherent/incoherent"; the bottom model says "community" and "bureaucratic/expert/shadow/temporary"
The top model says "system" and "hierarchical/complex+hierarchical/complex/chaotic"; the bottom model says "goals" and "formal/experimental/aspirational/crisis"

We played with the idea of having several models with different sets of domain names: for communication, culture, strategy, oh, lots of things. One file from that time lists 38 separate sets of domain descriptions. Why did we switch to using only one set of names? My best guess is it was a result of discussion and testing in workshops (of which there were at least a few more, if not several). But I don't actually remember.

Intermission. Here's a doodle to rest your mind.

First seeing eyes. May 18-24, 2001. This, I believe, is my very first drawing of my "seeing eye" diagram. (I'm not sure it's the first, because of that missing earlier notebook; but this may be the first, given its non-canonical form.)

As you can see, the pyramids weren't exactly pyramidal at first.

The chasm and disorder. May 18-24, 2001. This was a method we created to draw the bubbles, but later abandoned as too complicated. I liked it, because it incorporated a step-change transition between chaos and order (see the "chasm"?), which I had got very excited about including in the days before the May workshop. (Dave only embraced the chasm a year later, and I gained the right to tease him about it ever after.)

It says "chasm-separated" going to "permeable"; "simple (single?) model of management"; "bridge over chasm"; "thickening permeable"; "dominant line, usually thick, defines most important space (how?)"; "secondary line"; "(final?) connector, shows unknowns"
Note also the arrow pointing into the empty spot between the bubbles. I think it says, "Simple model of management." Or it could be "single." Anyway, that part was Dave's idea, and it evolved into the "disorder" domain.

Decision dialogue discourse discovery. May 18-24, 2001. As I said, we were playing with lots of names for things. I like this set.

It says: "decision; dialog; discourse; discovery"

Second seeing eyes. May 25, 2001. Here's the second set of seeing eyes, now falling into the familiar canonical pyramids. (All pictures after this one look the same, so I won't show any more.)

Another doodle. You must be tired, poor thing. Why not take a break? (Oh, all right. I just like my doodles.)

If you are (rules for interactions).
Early June, 2001. I just like this diagram because it sums up a lot of my/our thinking at the time.

It says: too much to type here.

For each quadrant (the bubbles were not yet a sure thing), I listed strengths (more like opportunities) and dangers. (I had a pretty involved (made-up) shorthand at the time, to write more faster. A circle with an arrow through it meant interaction; an up arrow meant increase; etc.) I think the boxed arrows represent things you should do in response, and they move you to another quadrant (or increase the intensity of the quadrant you are in, depending on where they go).

More on the middle. November 15, 2001. Here's another mention of the middle space. I don't think it had a name yet, but the idea was there.

It says: "In middle spaces - bureaucrats, experts, networks (?), crisis managers - want them to be in that space"

Then draw lines. November 15, 2001. This is in my notes from a meeting, and it may be the first mention of the method of creating the Cynefin framework in a sensemaking session. (I can't be sure any of the text things are the first mentions, because I'm not about to read nine notebooks full of barely-legible writing. Not even for you, dear reader.)

It says: "hexagons on grid dimensions between extremes; then draw lines to create cynefin. this is new?"

Note how I say "This is new?" I think this could only mean that I hadn't heard it before. I'm not surprised, because that sort of thing happened often. As with the bubbles, I would point out a flaw in something, or make a suggestion, and then a few weeks later Dave would suddenly come out with something new. It worked the other way around too. That's how people collaborate.

[Edit (excuse me, thought of this the next morning): The boundaries and spaces of Cynefin and of Confluence have to do with the nature of innovation, creativity, and problem solving. Dave always maintained that people need constraints to be creative. He said they had to be "starved" to innovate. "Necessity is the mother of invention" and all that. I always disagreed with this. As an asthmatic and a claustrophobic, I panic when I am starved of options; I feel like I'm running out of air. For me, creativity and innovation require freedom, the loosening of constraints, and abundance. Most of the negotiations between Cynefin and Confluence, and their eventual separation, came from these two different views. (This is one reason I always say the world needs not one but many models.)

All these years later, I think we were both wrong. I now believe that creativity, like happiness, is a decision. It's a way of life, a habit, a practice. It has nothing to do with conditions. It just feels like it does when you forget you've made a choice.]

Doodle time. Here you go. Relax.

The chasm returns. Sometime between May and September 2002. Here's a picture of the chaos-order chasm again. I know this was during a discussion with Dave, because his version of it is right underneath this picture, on the same page.

It says: "order; complexity; chaotic"

Notice how it says "cx" inside the chasm. That was my shorthand for complexity. It's strange that I would think to put complexity in there. Maybe it had to do with people talking about the "edge of chaos"? I don't think that way now. I think of complexity and chaos as orthogonal. Who knows.

Just crazy stuff. Late 2002. We're almost at the end now. Here are some sort of Cynefin-on-the-moon doodles.

It says: "buried by revealed by erosion; tunnel; pod; spewing through a crack; stable agreement; catapult"

This was an idea about Cynefin unfurling, for some reason.

The Cynefin multiverse
Fable form. January 2003. Here are some of my notes from the research project where I took apart something like 100 folk tales to figure out how we could use their structures to help people build their own stories.

It says: "wise coalition; unwise coalition; deliverance or good luck (happy story); abandonment or bad luck (sad story); suspense; trial (general); trial (perseverance); trial (faith); good example; bad example; opportunity lost, folly; deception; journey (growth, learning from mistakes); simpler form; contrast (bad/good/bad); contrast (good/bad); paradox"

I had made up a sort of visual language to describe folk tales, and I used it to understand their parts and how they fit together. We were already using a story template in the story construction exercise, but this research made it possible to expand the possibilities of story construction enormously. I even created a prototype of a story construction software tool, for people to make sense of events by building folk tales out of their collected stories.

Let's have a doodle. Ah, that's nice.

The middle space named. January 2003. Here's a little snippet that shows how our thinking on the disorder domain was moving along.

It says "can only be seen from above; disorder; who really knows what is here"

I think this may be around when Dave came up with the name "disorder" for the space. "Unorder" was my word, and "disorder" was his.

Movements again. April 2003. This is when we got very heavily into nailing down the movements among Cynefin domains for the IBM Systems Journal paper. 

It says: "high risk: release, wandering, despair, collapse; mid-risk: stimulation; oscillation; fragility; S curves; illusion; crisis managment; low risk: (you figure that part out); life cycles"

By the way, a lot of people think that paper was written in 2003 because it was published in 2003. But its first draft was written in December of 2001. For a while the paper was very long, because we dumped a lot of current thinking into it (well, actually I did most of the dumping). Looking back now, it looks like the paper sat unchanged from April to December of 2002. Then we came back to the paper and added the stuff about unorder and disorder; the sections on movements; and the section on the workshop technique where the model is derived. Because the ISJ wanted a short paper, we had to remove about 75% of the previous content, some of which I reused in other writings later on. Also, incidentally, because the ISJ reviewers objected to our use of the term "model," we changed the name of the thing to a "framework." I don't think it matters much.

Okay folks, that's all the pictures I thought you would like to see. Hope you had fun looking through the notebooks with me. I'll leave you with a final doodle, which captures my thoughts about complexity, and about collaboration.


Dave Snowden said...

Thanks for this Cynthia it brought back fond memories. I well remember that New York session. The end of the Knowledge Wars in IBM had brought me into the IKM now with you and some of Lisa's time I finally had resource to develop what had until then been a largely theoretical framework into something pragmatic. It was also memorable as Judith and I (mainly Judith) had broken every rule in the IBM book. Employing a contractor who had just been laid off by another unit was not considered appropriate and we went through some grief. I wish I had been working with her the second time when the IKM was folded and I needed to get you into the Cynefin Centre. I was given a warning over using a client's request to override an IBM process which tells you everything you need to know about IBM.

So while my memories do not exactly conform with yours in general I'm in agreement. There are however two issues where I disagree but hopefully nothing major. Anyone you work with is influenced by and influences what you do as you say. But I don't want to denigrate the role of others such as Boisot and the two Nicks/Sharon in some of the early formation.

The Bubble diagram was drawn when we were working on how to socially construct Cynefin using defining narratives. That was an important step and I think you underestimate your contribution to that, in particular the Butterfly Stamping exercise. We were looking at how to stop people going down a two by two categorisation route for some time and starting to play with boundary objects between domains and between all domains. The ordered/chaos boundary was important and I think your drawings reflect that.

However, the central domain of disorder was previously published and as you point out genesis precedes publication date. I'd drawn it in more or less its current form at Aston University and (prompted by both Nicks and Sharon) in earlier pre IKM workshops with people like Virgin and the Stock Exchange. What happened in New York with the Four Points method was the realisation of just how important that domain was.

Equally the catastrophic fold came from an Academy of Management meeting. I had to present Cynefin to a critical pane with Max Boisot and JC Spender as respondents, both of whom gave me a hard time. At the end I sat down with Max and he asked if I knew about catastrophe theory. I said I knew Thom's work but that was the limit. He then redrew Cynefin as a plane with the fold at the bottom. After than it came in. Max along with Alicia was the most formative influence on Cynefin and I always regretted you didn't like him, but Alicia was compensation. Realisation of boundary states came into that, but to Max belongs the main credit for that one.

The think I failed to recognise was the importance of the tetrahedron models you created for explaining dynamics not the catastrophic fold. I have served by penance for that over time complying with my undertaking to publicly confess my sin by saying 'Cynthia was right' overtime I used them :-) Less so these days as the newer uses of constraints and the differentiation between constraint types (from Juarrero) provide an alternative.

Either way good to see the artefacts of what was a wonderfully creative period.

Cynthia Kurtz said...

Thanks for the comment, Dave. I'm busy cleaning my office today (finally a sunny day) but I'll take a moment to clarify a few points.

1. I was not "laid off" by IBM Research, at least not by my understanding of the term. I was initially hired on a one-year contract, which ended on schedule. Near the end of that year, I collaborated with the IBM Research support group to apply for an internal grant. We got the grant, which was for one year, and that contract ended on schedule. When my second contract ended, my boss, John Thomas, attempted to hire me as a permanent employee. He got four out of the required five signatures. The fifth guy had recently declared that IBM Research should hire only "the top PhDs from the top schools" and refused to sign on that basis (without knowing anything about me).

When DARPA asked me where I wanted my part of the funding for the Genoa project to go, I requested that the funding go to the IKM. DARPA wanted me to be included on the project based on my work creating StoryML, my paper about which John had showed to somebody at DARPA some months before (and apparently it got handed around). That's how I ended up as a Project Manager at the IKM: I brought my funding with me. Sometimes I have wondered how things might have played out if I had chosen to work on my own instead of through the IKM.

The only job I have ever actually lost was when I tried to work as a waitress at a pizza place when I was 20. It was fully justified, because I kept dropping things and breaking them. And forgetting orders. And spilling food on people. I have a lot of respect for waitresses.

2. When you say, "the central domain of disorder was previously published" - previous to what? My drawing of it a few days after the bubble diagram was created? Because that's not possible. Of course it was published before the 2003 paper came out. As you recall, you published a few papers between April of 2001 and whenever in 2003 the IBM Systems Journal came out. To the best of my knowledge, I read every draft paper you wrote during that time and commented heavily on them all, and you read and benefited from my comments. So even though my name was not on those papers, I was involved with them.

3. When you say, "the catastrophic fold came from an Academy of Management meeting," I have not disputed that. What I have pointed out is that I tried to get you interested in a step-change "chasm" element between chaos and order a year before you had that realization (in early May 2001). I'm sure you remember that after you discovered catastrophe theory, I pulled out my notes and drawings and showed you how I had tried to get you interested in the same thing a year earlier. As I'm sure you remember, I was in a PhD program where my research involved complexity theory. Of course, I hadn't thought a whole lot about complexity in organizations before I started working with you. So you deserve credit for pointing me in that direction while you were exploring those connections yourself.

So if you want to say that to Max goes the credit in getting you to see what I had tried to get you to see a year earlier, I agree completely. However, if you want to say that the idea of a fold or chasm or special boundary between chaos and order didn't exist, or hadn't been proposed, until you discovered catastrophe theory, that is not true (even if you remember it that way). Perhaps I could have done a better job of presenting the suggestion to you. Often people have to come at the same idea from a few different directions, or hear about it from a few different sources, in order to really connect with it, and there may be an aspect of that here.

I agree that it was a wonderfully creative period. I was glad to have the opportunity to work with you, Sharon, and everyone else in the group. But this is ancient history. It's fun to reminisce, but other things are more important to me at the moment. And my office is all clean now, so I'm ready to move on.

Dave Snowden said...

It's always fascinating to see other perspectives on a a common story line :-) I had some of the back story on the Research exit but not the full story. Equally I think you have no idea of the hell Judith and I went through to get that contract signed - a game that included calling a research post 'Project Manager' and a few other things. Big fight but worth every scar for what came from it. I've been fired once and laid of twice in my career so I don't think twice about the word so sorry if you saw it as pejorative.

I don't think we have much difference on the bubble diagram. Whether it preexisted (in the review draft of Complex Acts) or was my response to your question isn't worth falling out over, but for the record all articles before Complex Acts of Knowing did not go out for review by anyone, I generally finished them fuelled by malt whiskey on, or shortly after the deadline. Writing with you created a new discipline that I have not really managed to stick to since.

The Chaos boundary is a more interesting one. I'm really happy to accept that when we were all working on the boundary objects that you suggested that boundary was a different, a collapse etc. Lots of things around Cynefin had multiple antecedents. But nothing every went into Cynefin until it had been tested in presentations, tried out in workshops, linked to other sources. So if I ignored you for a year, then I ignored myself for a year or more on other aspects. The key point was the AoM meeting and the link to Thom. I will confess that Max was my mentor and his tragic early death a huge loss so I am more than inordinately sensitive to giving him credit.

Overall, and for the record, I don't think you get sufficient public recognition for all that you did in the IKM and the Cynefin Centre. I've historically done what I can there (although you may not think so) but its got more difficult in recent years with a series of attacks being mounted on Cynefin and on me by a couple of people. The most recent attack on Wikipedia for example resulted in a formal warning to the editor concerned which will lead to a block, and worse the remove of all reference to you from the page. We will need a third party reliable source to restore that and I am working on getting someone to write that. With the new Centre for Applied Complexity (which may interest you by the way and it has space for programmes that would be all yours) I have some Masters and Doctoral Students available so I will do what I can. Reference to the new Centre below - The children of the World project and the Peace and Reconciliation one might interest you and also be appropriate for PNI per your book.


Cynthia Kurtz said...

I can't piece together exactly which papers I commented on or contributed to all these years later. But I remember well how frustrated I was at the time. The other day I was looking at the very first draft (of dozens) of the paper that eventually became the ISJ paper, from December 2001. At the end of it you wrote, "Dave Snowden is Director of the Institute for Knowledge Management for Europe, Middle East and Africa." After that I wrote, "Cynthia Kurtz would like to start getting her name on some papers."

On the chaos boundary, I was eager and ready to try out the idea in workshops and test it in presentations, only I didn't have control over any of that. I would have loved to have worked on the chaos boundary with you, but you kept dismissing it, and eventually I gave up on it. But I can completely understand your wanting to give all due credit to Max. I definitely want to do that as well, and I also think his take on it was better than mine. I disagreed with some of the things Max said, but I respected him as a person, and I'm sad that I didn't get to know him better. Part of that was my having an infant and never traveling during the years when you worked the most with him. Maybe if we could have met in person the initial dislike (you told me it was mutual) would have melted away.

I did try to clean my office on Monday, and it did rain all day, but one small part of the reason I got out those old notebooks was that a few things you said on the Wikipedia talk page bothered me, and I wanted to check my memory.

First, you said I had been your "research assistant" at the IKM. Maybe I'm being prideful, but I've never been anybody's assistant. That statement especially galled given that I BROUGHT my own funding to the IKM, no matter how much paperwork you and Judith had to do to make it work (and I do remember it, and I thank you for it).

The second irritating thing was that you said the five-domain form of Cynefin did not arise during the time we worked together on it. I know and you know that it did. That's why I wanted to look at my old notebooks, because I remembered (correctly) that most of those improvements took place in May and June of 2001, long before the "Complex Acts" paper was published.

I think the thing that really bothers me about that second statement is that almost all of the productive work we did together on Cynefin took place, and ended, before you claim we ever worked together on it. I don't care about getting credit. It was a little thing, and I've done things I'm more proud of before and since. And I'm perfectly ready to tell everyone that you had many excellent ideas then and now. But it injures my good memories of that time to hear you say that it didn't happen, or that it happened years later in some weakened way. There aren't very many great synergies in life, and I hate to lose one. It's like we sat once and saw a beautiful sunset together, and I remember it well, but for some reason you keep saying it never happened. If you have a special need to believe you saw that sunset alone, I can live with that, but it's sad. I got out my old notebooks the other day mostly just to remember that the collaboration really did happen, with you and Sharon and all of it. It did, and I'm glad it did.

Dave Snowden said...

There was never any question about you being a co-author on that paper. I asked you more or less as soon as it was commissioned. I would simply have assumed that at some stage in the drafts you would have added your own name with your own preferred designation. A bit if the backstory you may not know, but will not surprise you if you remember some of the personalities in the IKM, was that my allowing alphabetical listing on that article was challenged at an IKM meeting. Apparently any paper with a Research Director's name on the paper should give precedence to said Director. I'm pleased to say Larry backed me on that one.

Otherwise I'm sorry about the 'research assistant' tag, but it was in the context of the latest of a series of attacks that have been going on in social media and which then manifested with a blatant attempt to use Wikipedia to attack SenseMaker. Given the use of the SenseMaker and Cynefin hashtags in the build up to a PNI session I was irritated myself as it seemed you were at least complicit in those attacks. Regardless of the IKM hierarchy (which also irritated me in several other contexts independently of you) it would not describe you role in any fair way and I'm happy to withdraw it. But I suspect we have both now been irritated and I for one want to move on. It was as you say one of the great synergies and I want to remember it and have it celebrated that way. So if there are differences in memory or understanding best to clear them up than let them fester or be used maliciously.

And yes, it is one of my great regrets that you and Max never met. I think I should have arranged that before you read Knowledge Assets, but that is hindsight.

I owe you a book review as soon as I get some time to write properly so I'll do my best to acknowledge more of the history in a better way when I do that.

Stephane Dangel said...

Full respect to everybody who got involved in the development of such huge uses of narratives

Cynthia Kurtz said...

Thanks Stephane! I echo your comment, not just to those on this comment thread but to everyone who has been involved in this work - because there have been hundreds if not thousands. May we all continue to travel together.