Dave Snowden — How leaders change culture though small actions

How do you work from where you are, not where you would like to be?

Brian Shirai
27 min readJan 9, 2017
Space filling curves Kevin Dooley CC BY 2.0

The following is a set of notes, indexed by time, of Dave Snowden’s talk, How leaders change culture through small actions. This talk is dense with information. What follows is not exactly a transcript, but I’ve tried to predominately use exact quotes. Some sentences are edited for easier reading from the form in which they were spoken. All errors are mine.

Theory-informed Practice

2:28 How do you work from where you are, not where you would like to be? It’s about time we start dealing with the reality of our day-to-day and stop talking about how we would like things to be in five year’s time.

Managing the present to create a new direction of travel is more important than creating false expectations about how things could be in the future.

4:16 Sick Stygma (Six Sigma) — business process re-engineering with the worst aspects of American bible-belt cultism added on for good measure. It’s a cult and it has high priests that get different colored belts to indicate their cult status. If they are given a black belt, they no longer have to do any real work because their job is to impose cult discipline on those people who do.

Anyone who links Six Sigma with Lean doesn’t understand Lean because Lean is about eliminating the waste that Six Sigma techniques created in the first place.

4:53 Organizations like 3M have abandoned Six Sigma for all but core manufacturing because it destroys their ability to innovate or have a relationship with the customer. People are taking techniques designed to control manufacturing processes and using them to define service relationships with massive negative consequences. It’s because they are taking cases without understanding the theory.

They see something work in one context and assume it will work in another.

5:38 What we have in science terms is a confusion of correlation with causation. The fact that 20 successful American manufacturing companies have CEOs with regular bowel movements, it doesn’t follow that your recruitment strategy should be based on covert observations of the toilet habits of applicants to your organization. There may be some linkage but it’s not a causal linkage

6:10 Deriving practice from limited academic observation of a limited number of companies will not produce scalable practice in the public sector. Industry survives by constant failure; we cannot afford to fail it the public sector.

What does natural science say about people and systems, what constraints does that apply, and how does this allow us to create sustainable practice consistent with theory, rather than trying to derive theory from partial observation of practice?

6:48 Real-time citizen engagement. Using children as ethnographers into their own communities to gather the day-to-day concerns of those communities and make those visible to actual decision makers.

It’s not what they are saying in response to questionaires and interviews. Underlying ideation patterns. Underlying unarticulated fears and beliefs.

7:38 Citizen engagement by understanding not only their day-to-day narratives, but giving them the power to tell us what those narratives mean, rather than handing over that power to academics or computer algorithms. Transfering the power of intepretation to citizens, patients, employees is a key part of distributed ethnography.

8:04 We also need evidence which actually persuades politicians to change. Too much evidence-based policy is actually policy-determined evidence.

8:35 Industrialization of artisan practices. Evidence needs not only to be valid, but it needs to be such that when people see it they know what to do without secondary explanation or secondary argument. Hard-baking advocacy into evidence.

9:08 Stop the never never land. One of the big differences between complexity and systems thinking: In systems thinking, you define the ideal future state and you try to close the gap. In complexity, you describe the present and see what you can change. You define a direction of travel, not a goal.

If you start on a journey, you will discover things you didn’t know you could discover which have high utility. If you have an explicit goal, you may miss the very things you need to discover.

Some Base Science

9:54 If you give a group of radiologists a batch of xrays and ask them to look for anomolies, and on one of the xrays you hide a picture of a gorilla that is 48 times the size of an average cancer nodule, 80% of them won’t see it even though their eyes physically scan it.

We do not see what we do not expect to see.

Which is another problem with setting goals: we only see things which match the goals and do not see reality.

10:45 Weak signal detection: how do we see the things which we are not seeing because they don’t fit the pattern of expectation?

10:54 The most you scan of what is in front of you is about 5%. You then match it against patterns, doing a first-fit pattern match, not a best-fit pattern match.

Consciousness is a distributed function of the brain and the body.

Based on a partial data scan, we privilege our most recent experiences, and do a first-fit pattern match.

11:40 In evolutionary terms: Think of an early hominoid on the savannas of Africa. Something large and yellow with very sharp teeth runs toward you at high speed. Do you want to autistically scan all available data, look up a catalog of the flora and fauna of the African velte, and having identified lion, look up best-practice case studies on how to deal with lions? By that time, the only document of any use to you will be the Book of Jonah, which is the only example I’ve found of how to escape from the digestive tract of a large carnivor.

We evolved to make decisions very quickly based on a partial data scan, privileging our most recent experiences. Do you see how this undermines our traditional approach to evidence-based decisions?

13:28 Cognitive activation. We are doing work in health and safety by which changing people’s dress cognitively activates them so they see the world from a different perspective. It’s not a voluntary choice. You cannot train yourself to do it. It needs to be systematically introduced. There are many thing you cannot train yourself to do, you need to be in a system which means you do things a different way.

Ritual is one of the most effective methods of changing cognitive activation.

14:04 Launching a new initiative. People listen to 5% of what you say and they match it against their most recent experience of initiatives. Start to see where they go wrong? Every time you launch a wonderful new program, “In 5 year’s time, after we invested all this money, look at how life will be,” people are scanning 5% of what you say through the patterns of previous initiatives, and that’s their response.

The way we introduce programs has got to change because we need to deal with reality.

14:40 If you give bright mice the children of dumb mice to bring up, the children of the dumb mice are bright.

In an area where we have two or three years of unemployment, we have biological problems developing, not socialogical problems. Culture inherits. It is a RNA-based, not DNA-based, chemically based activation or deactivation. Allowing poverty and unemployment to persist for two or three generations, you are creating a propensity for obesity which is not a matter of individual choice, it is an entrained pattern in that society.


15:40 A dinosaur’s feathers evolve in a linear way for warmth and possibly for sexual display. One day, dinosaurs with lots of feathers start to fall off trees and they glide. That’s how we get flight.

Under conditions of stress, a trait which evolved for one function exapts for a completely different function.

It couldn’t happen in a linear way because if dinosaurs threw themselves off trees in hopes that they would evolve feathers before they hit the ground, it probably wouldn’t work.

The human cerebellum evolved to manipulate muscles in fingers to pick seeds from seed pods. It exapts to manage the sophistication of grammar in human language. It could not have happened in a linear way. It’s a nonlinear repurposing.

16:45 In 1945, a Ratheon engineer notices that a chocolate bar melts in their pocket when maintaining the magneto of a radar machine. We get microwave ovens. If you look at the history of human innovation, it’s an exaptive history not an adaptive history.

17:05 Cave painting comes before language in human evolution. Art is of criticality to our intelligence and our resilence. By shifting to a higher level of abstraction, you make novel or unexpected connections. By sheer accident at the start, we learned to paint before we learned to speak. The ability to move things into an abstract level allows you to make novel connections.

If you deprive people of art, you deprive them of intelligence.

How do we manage for serendipity? How do we manage for exaptation? That is not a structured linear process with outcome based targets. That will limit accidental encounter. Let’s understand what we know from theory and let’s build policy based on that, rather than what we think might work because of what worked for us last time.


18:16 Not going into Cynefin framework here because there is much material on that available already. Key idea is the fundamental difference between three types of systems: ordered systems, complex systems, and chaotic systems. Defining this in terms of constraints.

The language by which we define things should be the language by which we change things. If you have to have a separate language for description from the language for intervention, it’s more difficult to make the transition.

18:48 An ordered system is one with a very high level of constraint. The constraints are so high that all behavior is predictable.

In nature you see this in granite rocks, the molecular bonding is such that you don’t get much movement. Human beings are unique among animal species in creating it. In operating theatres these days, we count the number of surgical instruments left at the end of an operation and check it was the same as were there at the start.

This is quite useful. Order has value for us. But the trouble is, we don’t understand the context.

Checklists work in a highly ritualized environment because when you go into an operating theatre, the process of scrubbing up and the training means that in the initiation into the operating theatre, your identity aligns with the role, therefore behavioral patterns are possible that are not possible outside the operating theatre. Checklists fail outside those contexts. People just tick them off and say they followed the process and we destroy social processes. We need to understand context before we imitate practice.

If you don’t understand why, you shouldn’t replicate what.

20:22 Humorous anecdotes from working at IBM about highly constrained bureaucratic processes.

You don’t fight a bureaucracy by arguing rationally or reasonably on the basis of evidence-based approaches or customer or employee need. That doesn’t work with a bureaucracy. The only thing you can do is ask innocent questions in the hope that people will realize it won’t work and create an exception.

24:28 If you over-constrain a system which isn’t naturally constrainable, people have to find ways to work around the system.

In health care, we are forcing people to break rules to provide care, and that’s wrong. It is an over-application of ordered approaches to control and not a recognition that not all systems are ordered.

25:06 A chaotic system is one where there are no connections or no connectivity (the agents’ behaviors are unconstrained).

If that happens accidentally, it’s a crisis; deliberately, it can be quite powerful.

25:18 An example of things we are now building with human sensor networks. Presented a situation on Syria to 2000 American agents and got them to interpret it onto high-abstraction metadata, which is ungamable, and within one minute we presented back a distribution map of all the different opinions and the minority opinions. Remember the gorrilla — You don’t try to train people to observe things better because you cannot do that unless you make them fully autistic, in which case they won’t operate. You recognize the reality and get multiple agents and use visualization to show, these are the dominant views and these are the minority views.

27:04 A complex adaptive system is one which has enabling constraints not governing constraints.

The difference is like an exoskeleton versus an endoskeleton. An ordered system is like the external skeleton of an insect — it has a rigid shell that is not going to change but within it things may change. An endoskeleton is like our spine — it gives coherence but doesn’t contain completely, so you get huge amounts of variation around it.

This is of huge importance for governance. How do you create enabling constraints that effectively allow locally valid solutions to emerge within the governance framework? People confuse this, they think that all constraints must be governing constraints, actually they can be enabling constraints.

27:54 An illustration of this is the difference between rules and heuristics. Napolean famously told his commanders to march to the sound of the guns. That was a revolution in warfare. People now knew what to do when the battlefield plan breaks down. Not only that, they know what their colleagues will do, so there is now a degree of distributed intelligence within the network.

The American Marines have a variation on that — if the battle field plan breaks down, capture the high ground, stay in touch, keep moving.

Notice that these are not abstract new-age fluffy platitudes. They are hard, measurable heuristics: 1. did you capture the high ground? 2. did you stay in touch? 3. did you keep moving?

28:44 An anecdote about climbing down a castle wall to retrieve his daughter’s favorite stuffed animal. Heuristic for climbing was, always have three points of contact.

30:22 Rule breaking should not be made habitual by the system. What we are doing in government and health is making rule breaking habitual, and we are forcing people to do things they don’t want to do, so they became casual and that’s when we get accidents.

30:58 We use heuristics to control uncertainty. If you have a rule about when rules can be broken, it’s safer. Switching from governing heuristics to enabling heuristics, we can ritualize this transfer. The reality is that it always happens in an emergency anyway. We need to realize we get micro-emergencies on a day-to-day basis.

It is not that we don’t govern, but we govern in a method appropriate to the system. This is the key message on complexity, dependent on which system you are in, you can operate in a different way.

32:00 One of the things we are starting to work on is patient journey and nurses journey. By empowering patients to keep continuous narrative records of their cycle through the hospital, we can have an empirical measure of the impact of the hospital on their perception of health, not one of those nonsensical smiley-face things at the end, and not something involving professionals interviewing them where they know the answer they are meant to give. We can see those patterns. Then we have a network we can ask questions of in real time. And we can also detect in real time small early indications of attitudes to health care.

32:36 On a big project we did in New York on this, 50% of the patient’s stories were breaches of hospital hygiene by medical staff. The patients spotted it because for them the notices were novel, whereas for the hospital staff, they had become habituated, so they weren’t paying attention. Then we got a panopticon effect, when the medical staff realized that the patients were seeing it, their behavior modified in a way that training courses hadn’t.

This is about distributed human sensor networks with real-time feedback. The ability to use a bunch of independent agents to ask a question of policy. This is what we are going to be doing in Columbia. Within a year in Columbia, we will be able to ask a question of a million people and get them to interpret it in real time. You don’t need to commission research, you can ask a question.

33:35 The best way I’ve ever learned to explain this is to think about how you would manage a party for a bunch of kids. Can everybody imagine running a party for a bunch of 9-year old children? And you’re holding it in your own house. This is a mistake. The whole point of community centers and church halls is they have firehoses. Firehoses are vital for cleaning up after a party and are occasionally necessary for crowd control during the party itself.

The first decision you have to make is an ontological decision: which type of system are we?

34:14 If you assume the system is chaotic, it means that the children are unconstrained and their behavior is random. So they will probably discover drugs and alcohol and go on a personal experience of self discovery. Your house may burn down in the process, but all property is theft and it was socially constructed in the first place so why are you worried about it? I don’t recommend this approach. I have a friend in California who tried it once but is never going to do it again. The recovery cost is too high.

34:44 The ordered approach, on the other hand, is taught in all good business schools. Under this it is of critical importance to agree on the learning objectives of the party in advance of the party itself. The learning objectives should be aligned with the mission statement for education in the society to which you belong, and should be clearly articulated and printed off on motivational posters with pictures of eagles soaring over valleys and water dropping into ponds, and you should put those posters around the walls where you are going to hold the party.

As the children come into the party they should be given Disney cards with the party value statement printed on the back so they are fully aware of it. Then you produce a project plan for the party with clear milestones throughout the party against which you can measure progress against ideal party outcomes.

The senior adult then starts the party with a motivational DVD. You don’t want the children wasting time in play that isn’t aligned with the learning objectives. Then they use Powerpoint to demonstrate their personal commitment to the party objectives and show the children how their pocket money and allowances are linked to achievement of the milestone targets.

Following the highly successful completion of the party, you conduct an after-action review, update your best-practice database on party management, and mandate future process improvements. If at this stage for any remote reason the children aren’t happy, you hire an appreciative inquiry practitioner who will get them to tell happy-clappy stories, so they have happy mental models and suitably indoctrinated, they will like whatever you put in front of them next time.

Everyone reasonably familiar with this approach to party management? I’ve got to build mindfulness into that sometime soon.

36:30 The complex systems approach, on the other hand, is much simpler. We start off by drawing a line in the sand, known as a boundary in complexity theory, and we look the children solidly in the eye and say, “cross that you little bastards and you die.”

One of the things you learn pretty fast as an adult is the value of flexible, negotiable boundaries, because rigid boundaries have a habit of becoming brittle and breaking catastrophically.

We then introduce catalytic probes. I’m deliberately using technical language here because you need to think differently about this. If we don’t change language, we don’t change the way that people think.

We introduce probes, safe-to-fail experiments. A football, a video, a BBQ, a compter game. We see if a pattern forms. If it does, it’s called an attractor. If it’s beneficial, other kids will get attracted to it, they will start to play. At which point, if it’s OK, we don’t take resources away, or we give it resources. If it’s negative, well that’s where you need the fire hoses.

We manage the emergence of beneficial coherence within attractors within boundaries. And that allows locally valid solutions to emerge.

38:10 Everything that science is telling us is about systematic change, not individual change.

Others think it is all about changing the individual and then the system will change. We ain’t got enough time for that. Added to it, I’m not sure it is ethical. I think it is a modern form of neo-colonialism. You’re telling people what sort of people you think they should be. That would not be valid if we were doing it with an indigenous group, so why the hell do we think it’s valid if we do it with our own people?

38:50 You can change people’s interactions and then they can choose how they change. And you can achieve more systematic change faster by changing people’s interactions because we evolved as community-based intelligences, not as atomistic individuals.

We are not the isolated individuals of neoliberalism, we are communtarian entities at our heart. Understanding that is key.

A danger of this (atomistic view focused on the individual) is that actually every corpse on Everest was once an extremely motivated person.

If you don’t have the systems to support things, it doesn’t matter what individuals think, it will go down. We are taking people through individual change programs, but not building the systems which will support it.

Until you change the system, nobody will change. It’s not good enough to just focus on individual change, we’ve got to focus on systematic change.

40:26 Where people are working for explicit goals, it destroys intrinsic motivation (citing New Scientist, 9 April 2011, pp 40–43).

What do we need in government? Intrinsic motivation. What do we do? Set them extrinsic goals. What we get is rapid, massive demotivation.

I’m going to show you some of the pictures we’re starting to look at on total demotivation in hospitals because there are so many rules and so many constraints that nobody can survive by doing the job they were trained to do. We have to create measurement systems that match that in terms of the way it works.

41:18 Let’s look at some issues with research. Have we all done questionnaires?

There are several problems with questionnaires. First of all, the really scary stuff, if you allow people to evaluate, they lock options down too fast. Asking people to evaluate a service or themselves, they worry about what the perception is.

Description keeps options open; evaluation closes options down.

42:24 We’ve been doing field ethnography with girls who’ve been subjected to genital mutilation and rape in Africa. They are now acting as ethnographers to people at risk in their own communities, which by the way, is better therapy than meeting with therapists. When we actually look at their narrative maps, they have multiple intervention points because they are describing their day-to-day experiences.

When we present the same data to experts in Washington (DC), the Hague, and London for interpretation, they have narrow interventions because they are evaluating the stories based on their expert knowledge. Evaluation closes options down. The minute you ask an evaluative question, you cannot trust the result. This is a problem with traditional 360 feedback. You can gift or game it.

43:23 We now do stuff by which a leader nominates any number of people, who every time they encounter, record the observation and interpret it onto only positive description labels. We don’t ask hypothesis-based questions.

44:16 We take a different approach (to 360 feedback), we go to 5% of the workforce every month and ask, “What story would you tell your best friend if they were offered a job in your workplace?” That’s called a non-hypothesis-based question. Then we say, “Where would you place this story?” and give them six triangles, where one of the triangle’s vertices are Altruistic, Assertive, Analytical. Notice that those are three positive qualities.

In cognitive terms, that engages the novelty-receptive part of the brain, not the autonomic side of the brain. So you think more about it. And you don’t know what the right answer is, so you can’t gift or game. Then the executive or the company sees their balance toward analytical, and haven’t got altruistic. So then we get into this massive, radical new theory of change. You look at the observations and say, “What can I go do tomorrow to create more observations like these and fewer observations like that?”

45:20 That leads us into what we’re talking about as vector targets, not outcome targets.

Vector targets measure direction and speed of travel, and therefore can sustain novel practice whereas outcome-based targets cannot.

45:37 Another problem besides gifting and gaming in questionnaires, you cannot trust the honesty of people. It amazes me but academics think that people answer questions honestly. If you genuinely think that people fill those questions in honestly, you’re stupid. They don’t. All the evidence says they don’t. It’s too easy to bias.

46:38 The other problem you’ve got is focus groups are biased within 15 minutes by the facilitator. You cannot trust a focus group, the facilitator privileges some response over others. Anybody who says their training prevents it has probably formed a hypothesis before they started the seminar.

46:58 Questionnaires are linear and reactive. Two months to commission it, one month to run it, a huge amount of cost, two months to interpret it. Nobody knows what the hell it means anyway so you spend more money to consultants to interpret it. We need real-time response.

We need real-time feedback for an evidence-based process, we can’t afford to wait for a linear process.

47:35 Advocacy is not hard baked into the process. We did a project with the Royal Australian Air Force on motivational, demotivated stuff. They had a problem with officers leaving the Air Force early. The head of the Air Force insisted we put a multiple choice question in, “Which major initiative did this narrative relate to?”

The prompting question was given to officers and spouses of officers. Spouses often give you better stories than officer themselves. We asked them, “You’re a grandparent. Your grandchild says they want to join the Air Force. What would you tell them about your experience?” Again, do you see the non-hypothesis question, the non-judgmental question? We pulled in 3,000 stories in a week.

48:28 We got an absolute correlation between poor leadership, willingness to leave the Air Force, and recent implementation of Lean Six Sigma.

The leader of the Air Force is not happy, but he’s paying attention. Getting people to pay attention to evidence is getting them on board. He can’t challenge 3,000 self-interpreted narratives from his own officers and their spouses. He can challenge a questionnaire, a focus group, or an expert, but he cannot challenge this evidence. He’s got to pay attention.

He turns to a young squadron leader at the bottom of the table, and he said, “We (by which he means “you”) haven’t explained our (by which he means “my”) initiative properly.” This is a classic first response. And we said, “We don’t know. Look at the correlation.” I’ve got this correlation graph. I can click on that and go directly to the stories told by his staff. This is key. You go from statistics to explanatory story without any intervention.

The first response to the question (What will you tell your grandchildren?) was a one-liner, “I’ll shoot them first and they’ll be grateful.” The head of the Air Force says, “That’s some disgruntled young officer.” We said, “We don’t know. Click on the demographics.” Note that I’m not telling him anything, he’s discovering it for himself. “Thirty years service. Female. Warrant Officer.” At that point, everything went absolutely silent.

He tentatively clicked on the next story, which had been given the name, “Why do we have to shit under the trees?” Two paragraph story about a new unit sent out to the red dessert to set up a base. The Six Sigma process means they haven’t gotten a mobile latrine in time because they haven’t filled out the forms properly. They are one month into the deployment and they are pretty pissed off about this because they are having to dig holes in the ground. That is bad enough here in Wales but you do not want bare skin next to holes in the ground in Australia with all the poisonous snakes, spiders, and other insects.

51:24 The head of the Air Force said, “We’ve taken Sig Sigma too far.” Do you see what I mean about advocacy baked into the evidence? You want a real-time feedback where people can go from statistical stuff which creates objectivity to narrative which creates explanation. The process itself means they have to take it into account. That ability to explain things to politicians and decision makers is key to creating a sustainable society.

51:52 Narrative is key to identity. It is the stories of people’s day-to-day lives which give them power. Fundamentally, cultures matter. It is not for you to decide what narrative people should have. It’s for you to influence their current narratives to see if you can create a more sustainable one, not to decide to impose a narrative — that is called propaganda — but to understand the current narratives and try to shift and influence and direct them through action, not through words.

53:30 Example of getting people to identify all the decisions made recently which affected them personally which illustrate what this organization is like to work for. This is something you can do on a continuous basis over a week or month. Decisions that people feel affect them tell you more about an organization than anything else and it also gives you a good decision mapping as a secondary benefit.

In this example, did people act intuitively, did they analyze it logically, did they make decisions based on principles. Each dot on the visualization represents a story told by an individual. Analytically, this organization is strong, ethically they may be challenged, god help them in a crisis.

We’re not saying you should be this type of an organization. We’re saying you’re currently mapped like this, how do you shift it? Not, “You should be this”, but “How do you change, what direction do you want to travel?”

54:32 Example for Healthy Together Victoria (Australia), capturing voice, picture, text, or any combination. This allows us to map different patterns. What we are now starting to do because we have real-time capture in the field is to allow people to intervene at a local basis to create a big picture rather than run average programs which punish everybody.

55:30 A more scary example is a combined illustration of health and manufacturing (a combination of three real projects to protect the innocent). This is where we are getting real workers to continuously observe micro-anomalies. Micro-anomalies are really important because they are early signals of major anomalies.

The visualization is a probability distribution. The vertical dimension is rule compliance and horizontal dimension is job completion. Another principle of sense-making is a visualization should tell you what to do. In this example, in civilian manufacturing you either get the job done or you follow the rules, they are mutually incompatible states. All the questionnaires, all the focus groups, all the interviews say they are doing both. Oh by the way, don’t buy interviewing either. After you’ve conducted two to three interviews, your brain forms a subconscious hypothesis and you only hear things that match that hypothesis thereafter. This is a big problem with management consultants.

57:00 In the military manufacturing example, we think it looks quite good because we have that cluster in top right (job completion and following the rules), that turns out to be nuclear weapons testing. It creates a contextual focus on job completion and following the rules. We’ve got get the job done and ignore the rules (cluster), and we’ve got this really depressing one, “I’ve given up and I’m surviving”. That’s the pattern we’re finding in hospitals. In a real emergency everything works. Some people are still getting the job done but they are having to break the rules. Other people are just making sure they hit the targets because that’s the only thing which counts. That is based on indirect mass observation, not structured interviews, questionnaires, workshops where people know that the actual result will be known.

57:48 Then what we can do, in the manufacturing case, each factory has its own landscape. In the hospital cases, each ward, each nurse has its own landscape. This is called fractal engagement. You don’t run a massive program across the whole organization. Everybody can see where they are situated. Everybody can influence their own vectors. This is a real-time feedback loop.


58:10 Theory informed practice. We start with the theory. We don’t start with the practice. Natural science gives us a body of theory we can rely on. Academic observation of three or four case studies doesn’t. End of argument on that.

We are pattern-based decision makers. We don’t see things we don’t expect to see. (Note that Snowden has elaborated on this in other talks. “See, attend, act are distinct processes. Just because we see something doesn’t mean we will pay attention to it. Just because we pay attention to it doesn’t mean we will act on it.”)

We learn best through exaptation. We are doing that now with exaptive databases, associating material from silos with citizen’s stories.

Oh, and by the way, stop trying to break down silos. Nobody has managed it. The American government has spent billions of dollars on it within the intelligence community and it doesn’t work because people like to be in silos. So stop trying to tell people they are doing the wrong thing and start to focus on linking and connecting things in silos.

We do that by collecting siloed capability onto the high-abstraction signifiers, which means there is no confidentiality breach, we are just working with metadata, and it gets associated in real-time with real-world problems and you ask for the knowledge, you don’t ask for people to contribute everything in advance.

59:33 We are physical creatures. Don’t forget that. Example of reversing diabetes. The physical environment in which people live has an epigenetic effect on their biology.

1:01:08 Complex adaptive systems are dispositional, not causal. That is the basic lesson of complex adaptive systems. You haven’t got a system with linear cause. You can’t say if I do this, then that will happen. You can say at the moment, the system is disposed to evolve like this and is not disposed to evolve like that. The minute you break that causal link, everything becomes easier.

1:02:01 We are understanding reality through distributed ethnography. That’s what we do when people become their own ethnographers, their own recordings of their own observations. We are understanding stuff in real time. This means we can nudge, not yank. We map the dispositional state of a population, when it is disposed to change, then we nudge it. That is a really important distinction because it means you spend far less money. That is a new form of behavioral economics.

1:02:56 Conflict resolution. That is the stuff we’re doing in Columbia at the moment. Until you understand the day-to-day street stories, and until people change the way they talk about the past, a new future is not possible. Getting people to tell stories about how they’d like to be always falls foul of the stories of how they were. Until you change the story of the past, you haven’t got a new story.

Unless you change the way people describe their past, a new future isn’t possible.

1:05:00 A basic principle of systems: You work out what the natural constraints of the system are and within that you say, “What has got the lowest energy cost of replication?” This gives you predictive capability. You can’t do it by traditional surveys, but the ethnographic techniques do it. Remember those dispositional maps? They are energy maps. If you’ve got a very strong cluster, you ain’t going to be able to change that, it’s too dominant a belief system. You’ve got to create what is called an alternative possible and shift it to a small adjacent state. That concept of what currently has the lowest energy cost of replication, this is work we are doing with ISIS/ISIL at the moment, which has a lower energy cost of replication than Al-Qaeda because it’s less ideological, therefore it spreads faster.

1:05:48 Anticipatory awareness. This is the work we are currently planning to take sideways from terrorism, where we want social workers to not have to fill out reports anymore because something like 70% of social worker time is filling out reports, in return for continuous real-time observations, including allowing kids and parents they interview to interpret their own stories, rather than having it interpreted by the social worker. That gives us the sort of data we need to do what we did in counter-terrorism, which is trigger an alert to the social worker based on previous practice to say, “Stay in this house and ask more questions.” The same thing in the NHS when safety is becoming an issue, you want an anticipatory trigger before the problem has become visible with conventional scanning. This requires large scale observations. Shifting from trying to predict the future to triggering human beings to a heightened state of awareness when the future may be about to change is a key switch. Again, this is managing the present.

1:07:05 Knowledge in Citizen Engagement: Centre Programmes. A variety of programs currently running.

  • Citizen journalism, including ‘Children of the World’
  • Post conflict resolution
  • Complex approaches to project management and understanding user needs
  • Economic regeneration with poor rural and urban areas, utilizing micro-communities (both actual and potential)
  • Programmes in obesity, patient journeys, social/health interaction
  • From outcome to vector based targeting and measurement
  • Foresight, MassSense, and complexity based Delphi

From a biological point of view, spirituality is important for physical health. It manifests in different ways. We’re also looking at sports, based on 5–6 sports projects with continuous capture from coaches, we’re looking at health and well-being.

We’ve got to remember from a citizen perspective, they live their lives as an engaged experience with their communities, they don’t live their lives in the neat compartments of our research needs.

1:07:57 The road to hell is paved with good intentions. It’s far too easy to reinvent the wheel. Has anyone read, Thinking Fast and Slow? If he had walked across the corridor to his cognitive neuroscience colleagues, he would have discovered we already knew about that five years before he started his research. It’s called autonomic/novelty receptive processing and that’s a better explanation. Because we haven’t got trans-disciplinary capability, we are reinventing the wheel constantly and we are not reinventing the wheel, we are creating squares and whatever.

1:08:55 Current approaches are too susceptible to pseudo-science. If you take a “what worked for other people” approach, you can be conned quite easily. Spiral Dynamics and Neuro-Linguistic Programming are actually taught at MIT as examples of pseudo-science. People fall for these things because they give apparent structure to an uncertain world, but they are pseudo-science.

Context-free copying. “It worked for them, it’s bound to work for us.”

1:09:32 Benign narcissism. The over-focus on the individual guru, the individual expert, individual tranformation, is focusing us on ourselves, not on the people we work for. We need to understand the people, we need to engage with the people, and we need to be part of those communities to move forward. It’s not a narcissistic process of leadership in which case we become the ideal and coach people. It’s getting closer to reality in terms of the way we work.

1:10:20 All paths up are different. All paths down are the same. The route upwards for Wales in different for Wales than it is for England. We need fractal engagement with reality. Fractality is self-similarity. So that we can allow locally contextual solutions to emerge with limited resource within a governance framework.