• Striding toward Cynefin

    This post originally appeared on the Cognitive Edge blog on December 8, 2010.

    Don’t get me wrong — my career has not been one long preparation for narrative research. If it feels like that some days, I try to remind myself that the real path was much less purposeful, that striding might be better described as crawling or even slouching (with apologies to W.B.Yeats).

    Having said that, I can look back and see some formative and generative ideas along with experiences that have proven invaluable. I offer them here in the hope that the generic path, if not my specific steps, may be instructive for readers who find themselves in the same situation that I did only a very few years ago, wondering how I could adapt narrative research to my own business and consulting niche. And perhaps more importantly, asking whether I should throw in my lot with this “Cynefin” thing, or at least spend some time and money on a training course and the promised land of “accreditation.”

    Through two decades in commercial and academic workplaces, I have been immersed in technology implementation and management, publishing, and market research for online media. One of the constants during this time has been my interest in knowledge management (KM) as it applies to both organizational and personal goals. Even though “personal knowledge management” is a relatively recent term, I have been interested since I first heard of KM in how its perspective and tools could help me be more productive. (Even now, I am seriously considering getting a Windows emulator for my MacBook just so I can run that DOS-era, best-ever-software program otherwise known as Lotus Agenda!)

    The other constant thread has been my interest in the myriad branches that have grown on the chaos and complexity tree. I was introduced to this field by a long-ago boss in a university job, when he gave me Mitchell Waldrop’s Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos (1991). Just reading the title, I was seeing some crucial pieces of the Cognitive Edge lexicon, even if I was still very far away from encountering “Cynefin” and “Dave Snowden” for the first time (2005) in someone’s KM blog. But that post was interesting enough that I found Dave’s blog and started following it.

    I would like to say that the rest was history, but of course it wasn’t. I spent the next few years (2005-2009) trying to put all the pieces together myself, especially the part about how narrative might be used in market research. And then agonizing over whether Cognitive Edge training would be worth the investment. When I decided to take the plunge, good things happened immediately. At training, I met a future client; my accreditation led to an introduction to two others; and then earlier this year I joined Cognitive Edge.

    So whether it was purposeful striding, or merely a concatenation of fortunate accidents, I find myself in a wonderful place, doing something I love. And I have a useful before-during-and-after perspective: I know what it is like to be totally on the outside, looking in at narrative research in general and Cynefin and SenseMaker® in particular; to be engaged in applying the ideas and methods as an educated, accredited user; and finally to be on the inside, looking back at those earlier steps and eager to help others benefit from my experience.

    I hope to meet more of you along your way.

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