I recently came across Dave Snowden’s blog at Cognitive Edge, an “open source style” consulting practice that came out of IBM’s Cynefin Center for Organisational Complexity. He recently wrote a post called “Safe-fail or fail-safe” and linked via Anecdote to Bob Sutton’s strong opinions, weakly held. I’m borrowing both terms for my own work.
Under conditions of complexity, with many causal linkages unknown and perceivable only in retrospect, Cynefin’s framework suggests that the appropriate decision-making response is to Probe, Sense and Respond. That is: try, fail and adapt. This the same methodology that underlies agile software development and emergent social behaviour. It is the method of evolutionary biology.
As complexity becomes an increasingly common characteristic of our economic and social systems, our management and governance structures will need to loosen up the historical industrial-engineering paradigm of “fail-safe” to allow for an emergent social-adaptability paradigm of “safe fail”. Organizations will need to change their practices to allow for and encourage safe failures when environmental conditions call for them. This change in practices is difficult because the traditional fail-safe paradigm is deeply embedded in institutional structures and cultural norms. In all likelihood, entirely new organizations will emerge that incorporate safe-fail methodologies. The successful ones may end up being acquired by more established players seeking to adapt to rapid change, or they may end up acquiring or overwhelming those that don’t.
Strong opinions, weakly held
This is me…my natural way of being. I love big ideas, form intuitive conclusions early and follow my hypotheses with further testing and research in the real world and in conversation with others. As a mantra, strong opinions, weakly held is as good as any. Maybe I’ll put it in my bio somewhere.
It is about making bold statements while being open to challenge. A strong opinion creates the motivation to develop strong arguments for it. “Weakly held” refers to an attitude of openness and receptivity to challenge. Any knowledge worth pursuing is not finished and static, but living and breathing, with much yet to be discovered.
This is an appropriate attitude for a blogging citizen wonk. I would argue that it is also an important attitude for other areas of innovation, including academia.
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