Recognising desirable patterns

I’ve been reading as much of Dave Snowden’s work as possible, as I find the Cynefin framework makes a lot of sense to my own practice, which I’ve mentioned previously. In an earlier article, Snowden & Kurtz talk about an interesting case in The New Dynamics of Strategy: Sense-making in a Complex and Complicated World:

In another case, a group of West Point graduates were asked to manage the playtime of a kindergarten as a final year assignment. The cruel thing is that they were given time to prepare. They planned; they rationally identified objectives; they determined backup and response plans. They then tried to “order” children’s play based on rational design principles, and, in consequence, achieved chaos. They then observed what teachers do. Experienced teachers allow a degree of freedom at the start of the session, then intervene to stabilize desirable patterns and destabilize undesirable ones; and, when they are very clever, they seed the space so that the patterns they want are more likely to emerge.

To me, this case shows the weakness of instructional systems design.  We need a design model that helps to template “desirable patterns”; recognise “undesirable patterns” and provide a variety of “seeds” for the learning environment. This would be a far better approach for learning, as any learning intervention involving several people is arguably in a complex environment. One aspect of complex environments, according to the Cynefin model, is that “Cause and effect are only coherent in retrospect and do not repeat”. Sounds like most learning environments I know.

6 Responses to “Recognising desirable patterns”

  1. Rene Meijer

    This post made me smile, as it is so true. I do not think it is unique to instructional design though. Most challenges is life require this sort of approach. To be successful in doing that however, you do need a mental tool set that is instantly at your disposal when you intervene. It is here when an understanding of design and pedagogy comes in handy. Much like the ‘patterns’ and ‘seeds’ approach you describe I suppose.

  2. Joan Vinall-Cox

    With any group, a dance can occur where the ‘lead’ observes and then gently shapes the energy flow, as it occurs, in the direction wished for, using improvisational skills. (Theatre training should be a requirement for teaching, IMHO!)

  3. Harold

    I agree, Joan. I think that improv should be a required subject in school. It is very useful for many endeavours in life.

  4. Jon Husband

    I found Dave’s course titled “Complexity, Narrative and Sensemaking” one of the best 3-day experiences I have ever had .. brought 20+ years’ reading and experience in strategy, change, OD into more useful coherence.

    Highly recommended.


Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)