Patterns emerge over time

Andrew Cerniglia has an excellent article that weaves complexity, cynefin and the classroom together. It is worth the read for anyone in the teaching profession. I became interested in complexity as I moved outside the institutional/corporate walls and was able to reflect more on how our systems work. The observation that simple work is being automated and complicated work is being outsourced seems rather obvious to me now. Complex work has increasing market value in developed countries and that is where the future lies. However, our schooling, training and job structures do not support this.

Cerniglia explains how complex the classroom can be, when we factor in the outside that touches each student daily:

But there is another, most important factor, life outside of the classroom. What happens beyond the classroom walls, in other classes, and more significantly outside of school, affects each learner. The combination of these variables supports the idea that classrooms should be classified as “complex” with the Cynefin Framework. If we review the traits of “Complex” systems, it is clear that often times there is “no right answer” in terms of instructional choices, that classrooms are “systems in constant flux”, and that the “ability to understand” (from the teacher’s perspective) comes after class has been dismissed.

This is the situation for many people outside the classroom, whether at work or in general life: there is no right answer. Cerniglia has created an excellent concept map that summarizes the cynefin framework and is worth exploring. Here is a detail from the map:

I haven’t seen many organizations that exhibit these traits, necessary to deal with complexity. Few senior managers accept that there is no one right answer. If they did, there wouldn’t be such a demand for best practices. The patience to watch patterns emerge over time is almost non-existent, though it’s what I’ve been able to do as a freelancer, and perhaps less engagement on a job site is part of the future of work. Furthermore, there are organizations that send tacit and explicit signals which could  result in these dangers:

  • The desire to revert to simple strategies, like simple PowerPoint presentations, executive summaries and three-phased operations.
  • Impatience with results that take more than one fiscal quarter to materialize.
  • Over-control of staff and resources, negating workers’ innate need for autonomy, mastery and purpose.

A strategy of probe-sense-respond (P-S-R) means testing things out and taking action before all the data are available or fully analyzed. So far, one of the few places I’ve noticed a P-S-R approach is in web development, especially with software as a service, like Google, where not-fully-baked applications get released and are then relentlessly analyzed in action. P-S-R is the mindset for life in perpetual Beta.

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