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Complexity and the Cynefin Framework - learnings for AoH - AoPL

Copied over from the Facebook group, March 2015:

Really interesting keynote by Dave Snowden on Complexity and the Cynfin Framework - Definitely challenges some of the methodological frames that often show up in AoH practice around innovation. I am curious to hear people's reflections and how it informs your praxis?


Michael Donnelly The Cynefin Framework is simple and powerful - like the best models always are. He is quite scathing about some of the approaches and I think this is as much about the motivation of those buying or practising as the methodologies themselves. In the right place they are great but they are not panacea. the right tool for the right job and sometimes 100% emergence is not the right tool when system boundaries are present and known or intuited.


Alexander Craig I agree with you Michael. I think he makes some important points around being careful about layering the language of complexity over the top of process design that is actually linear as you move towards taking action in a system - I notice that pattern show up quite a bit. I also appreciate his reflection that the real value being in creating process that are about movement between the different states.

My experience is that its easy to fall into subtle biased worldview that moving towards complicated and simple states and approaches that are more on the order and control side of the chaordic path model is 'bad'.

I also think there is lots of very interesting stuff in there around prototyping a set of different actions based on an assessment of their coherence and then the quantitative dimensions of the sensing/harvesting process for how we gather and make sense of data from prototyping actions to inform the next iteration of a process. I haven't really experienced much of that understanding being woven into the convergence phases in AoH practice and I am really curious about if and how that informs peoples design and practice in the field?


Ria Baeck Alexander Craig - how would you describe that kind of understanding - for the rest of us??? (maybe this is your gift to the global network?)


Kathy Jourdain This is a pretty definitive statement and it is usually good to take care with definitive statements. Does conflict always need to be present for innovation? Is OS always about driving consensus and agreement? Are there not other ways to bring in diversity?


Alexander Craig Ria Baeck - In this case the approach Snowden advocates for acting in complexity is, because complexity is inherently evolutionary and emergent and you can't know the right approach to take to address a challenge based simply on whats worked before, to 'probe - sense - respond'.

In his practice, Probe is to conduct 3 to 7 parallel 'safe to fail' experiments that have coherence, rather than designing 1 or 2 'fail safe' actions to address a challenge. There are some interesting heuristics he offers that guide selecting the portfolio of experiments you work with. Sensing then is for each of those experiments to establish feedback mechanisms that allow you to sense the patterns emerging around each experiment as they impact in the system. Responding is then amplifying or dampening experiments based on the patterns they create. That's the gist, but there is way more detail in the talk that is important.

In relation to AoH'esk practice this approach is much more akin to the the prototyping paradigm used in the on-going 'lab' based process models being utilized by folk like Zaid and SocialLabs etc. Where as in my experience at AoH trainings, both as a participant and hosting team member, when moving towards action we tend to use processes like 'design for wiser action' which in essence take 1 idea for addressing a challenge and direct the energy of the design group towards developing that one action into a plan. This idea development in itself isn't a bad, I like the DfWA process and think it has a lot of value. But in the lens of Snowden's work, this approach is used to develop a singular action plan that seems much more akin to 'designing a fail safe action' rather than multiple safe to fail experiments. Pro Action Cafe can easily follow the same pattern. Which, coming back to the process challenge of working with complexity, assumes you know what action will work in the system before you do it.

I haven't been in a AoH space where we intentionally encourage people to develop different parallel actions to run alongside each other, watch what works and then amplify it. I am curious if other people are doing that? I suspect its not to hard to still use DfWA and Proaction intentionally to develop multiple prototype experiments. Personally, I don't know in detail how to support people to identify and establish appropriate feedback mechanisms on actions/experiments in complex environments that give good decision making data for whether you should amplify or dampen - I am very curious to learn more about this.

The deeper inquiry I am in is that we, including myself, often use the framing of 'complexity' and 'emergence' to advocate using 'aoh'esk approaches and participatory methods - so I am trying to learn and deepen my own understanding around the thinking and practice that sits behind where that language comes from. Cynefin is one of the models I have used and have seen used many times to make the case around complexity (the chaordic path is another), so I wanted to learn more. I have found it really stimulating listening to Snowden's lectures, especially because some of what he offers critiques some of the 'aoh'esk approach - he is pretty scathing of Applicative inquiry. This doesn't mean he is right, or I fully agree, but I think dissent is valuable to stimulate reflection and learning because it challenges me to review my assumptions - hence also wanting to offer that into this group and see what kind of conversation that invited.

Growing up in Northern Ireland and being involved for many years in working to try and reweave community in different forms amidst the conflict there, I have been in lots of spaces of beautiful and transformational conversation and relational reconnection in isolated containers that have been nothing short of profound. I have also many times seen those new relational bridges, that held space open for new possibilities to arise for how we be together, crushed by moving back into the dominant system with no pathways to change the broader system (in the language of power and love - sentimental and anemic love) or ripped apart again by the new all too human conflict and power dynamics that arises from people moving into converging processes towards a few untested actions. Given this, I am very interested in approaches that support communities and organizations to take wiser action together in complex systems - I know that work really matters.

Kathy Jourdain - I hear you, it is very important to be careful with definitive statements and so to in quoting them and taking them out of their broader context - as I did with this quote. Snowden is being intentionally provocative with that statement, he frames that he will do that at the beginning of the talk. And I guess, in some ways, so was I in pulling out that quote - I figured it might create a response, and so I offered it because I really am curious about peoples unfolding understanding and practice in these areas. What are your thoughts and experience on the questions you offered above? I am also curious if you watched the talk and if so what your reflections are?


Michael Donnelly Alexander Craig thanks for more great opinions on this. There is a simple insight to Snowden's valuing prototyping (a la Scrum or agile) and it is that it allows participants to understand that there is not a breakthrough moment of convergence, after which everything falls into place as it always should have been. But rather, there is an evolution to be undertaken. The safe to fail allows for that evolution to take place - its like a merging of action planning and implementation. That transition has always seemed the most difficult with groups I worked with - having a great collective experience and then back to porridge and day to day reality that quickly dissipates the enthusiasm generated in the group. There are different ways that people have tried to describe this transition and the split has been between those arguing for big bang transformation, and those saying there's no point - you have to create the new and let the old die (such as creative destruction).


Alexander Craig If you are interested here is another talk and panel discussion at a USAID conference in 2014. There's an interesting conversation about system thinking approaches and complexity approaches:


Alexander Craig And heres Peter Senge at the same conference:


Jeff Aitken I know this is largely about the process after an open space for example. The 'now what.' But there is a common misconception in here. The law is not conflict avoidance. But it supports people to negotiate their own rhythm around conflict engagement. If you are not learning or contributing you might move. But when you are attracted by your passionate concerns you will likely stay even in a confrontational exchange. We're not locking the doors in any process I assume. Curious about that one piece.


Chris Corrigan at our workshop in London Dave did his rant about Open Space and claimed it was invented by two Canadians. i corrected him. and it made me realize that perhaps his experiences in Open Space have been poor ones, and perhaps he wasn't aware of how much theory Harrison Owen has actually connected to the process. (In fact he didn't even know who Harrison was when I corrected him, but that's fine...not everybody knows everything). Harrison can be a folksy kind of grandfather figure from time to time, but he has studied complexity and self-organization for a long time, and can hold his own just fine. I think Dave has experienced Open Space in Agile software circles mostly, and I don't know how it is used there. I have only ever heard Dave Snowden call Open Space a "consensus building" method. That is simply not my experience at all. But having listened to him, I can see how he might hold the views he holds, but even he will say, as he does above, that - like everything - it has it's applications. Of course it is a contextual method. All methods are.
i have used open space several times within organizational settings to create sets of parallel safe to fail probes, explicitly as part of using Cynefin. Lots of amazing stuff has emerged out of those probes, including an entirely indigenous school in Prince George, BC. So I know a little about deploying this method in complex systems. Open Space is not the enemy of innovation. Bad practice is the enemy of innovation.

I find Dave's work immensely valuable. He doesn't like what he has experienced of Open Space. That doesnt bother me. And I've learned a lot by taking up his challenge to understand from a theory basis, why what I do works, in line with complexity and cognitive theory. He calls for us to develop good praxis and I agree. We should not be afraid of theory, and we should never rest on our laurels as practitioners

I'll probably write up a post on this topic and invite him into a debate. but how about i leave us all with a challenge?

if it bothers you that Dave Snowden says that Open Space is the enemy of innovation i challenge us to see where he might be right. and i also challenge us to provide good theory about why he might be wrong. It's an excellent exercise to respond well to provocation.


Caitlin M Frost Great conversation and lots to think about. To add to the mix I have been part of many a well hosted open space where people stay in heated conversations and don't use the law of two feet to avoid. I have actually seen people use the law of two feet to move toward a heated and juicy conversation they have passion for....


Chris Corrigan Jeff, I agree with you around conflict engagement. the Law of Two Feet actually provides a mechanisms for people to stay engaged rather than fleeing. Of course you always have the ability to leave a conflict in any process, unless you're locked in the room.


Alexander Craig Great to hear your thoughts Caitlin and Chris. Love your challenge Chris, thanks for that, and its somehow unsurprising to hear that Daves perspective on Open Space may have arisen from a poor experience and not knowing its roots. As you say, this is a nice invitation to sharpen our praxis on both ends. I did a six day training in Open Space Technology back in 2008 in Belfast with a crew from Germany called BOSCOP a few years before I bumped into the AoH community. It blew my mind at the time. You could say the training was by the book based on a 3 day model (2 days conversation, 1 days action planning), the team had worked with Harrison closely, and a lot of the underlying teaching was on complexity and self organization. Whats interesting is that I think a lot of what Dave Snowden is offering matches very well with that form of Open Space. Relating to Daves conflict avoidance critique, even though I ran a bunch of 3 day Open Spaces in Northern Ireland on a variety of themes relating to conflict I am not sure I have enough of a case to claim otherwise in regard to the efficacy of the actions produced. The Open Space were one off events rather that on going labs and so its virtually impossible to track the impact of the actions that came out of it after people left. The teaching there for me is about the importance of ongoing practice and reflection in the same system to really have a sense of whats happening. What I do know is that in his books 'Wave Rider' and particularly in 'Practice of Peace' Harrison Owen talks pretty extensively his use of Open Space on issues of conflict. If I remember right one of his reflections was that if the Open Space is over enough time the Law of Two Feet allows the group to 'breath' by being able to walk away from excessive tension when its to 'hot' and that if the issue really matters people will have the courage to either rejoin the conversation or bring it up again in another session - there is a good story about working with an Israeli and Palestinian group in this form in the book. This 'breathing' also makes sense biologically in terms of hot emotive conversation as part of what happens physiologically when people get angry is that the amygdala in the brain swells with blood and your rational function becomes impaired - this literally makes it hard to listen to any other point of view - the only thing really you can do to calm the amygdala is slow your breathing and reduce your heart rate, which normally means stepping away from the situation that makes you angry. All that being said, I think the point Snowdon is trying to make is about the role of conflict and criticism in the process of developing robust actions/experiments. They use a practice called 'Ritual Dissent' for this purpose which seeks to depersonalizes the criticism/conflict around the action and uses it to sharpen the coherence of the action. All interesting stuff. Heres an video of Harrison Owen talking about complex systems that maybe Dave Snowden would enjoy...


Chris Corrigan Alexander: Awesome. I'm also a long time Open Space facilitator and am close to Harrison and Michael Pannwitz, who stewards the BOSCOP community. So yes, for alomost 20 years I've done almost everyone one can imagine with Open Space and I'm hard to surprise.
What is interesting to me about conflict in OS is that the conflict happens in nested containers. Think of a meeting held in one big room. Altogether in that room you have a co-ceated agenda, you have small groups happening in different parts of the room and you have food. When a conflict arises in a small group, you can stay in it or leave, but you are still contained in the larger room, in the space which I as facilitator am holding. You can get a coffee, go look at the wall, have a butterfly conversation, but YOU ARE STILL IN THE ROOM. If you find some emotional resources, you can go back, or you might find yourself working on another topic in another place with the person you were previously in conflict with. It's an interesting dynamic.

I think for really conflicted situations Open Space works well when you have the time. It allows people to dive in deeply with each other and really feel the tension, but alos allows for community to develop. 2.5 day Open Space events (ending in a safe-to-fail prototyping design) are amazing events. Using OST in too short a time frame means that people never get into that dynamic, and if that comes from a place of conflict avoidance, that's not good. In fact Dave's own process, Ritual Dissent, can be a way to accelerate the necessary "safe to fail" conflict that makes ideas more resilient.


Nancy White I REALLY wish this conversation was in a container that Dave has visibility/access to. We've had small conversations around this a few times, but never the time/space to really get into it. And it is an important conversation.


Ursula Hillbrand WHAT a beautiful synchronicity. So interesting, I came across and posted the video two days ago on my own timeline. Although Dave Snowden formulates his observation as a rather absolute statement, and I take it, after the introduction in his keynote, that this is how he chooses to operate in order to provoke and to make people really think in order to shift things. That's why I started to do exactly that, along with you mates. And yes, sometimes Ritual Dissent is perhaps the better option! It all depends what the aim is. We once had a Ritual Dissent built into an Open Space as a session, and it was exactly to offer to those people, who we knew might need it, an area of confrontation. Remember Rainer V. Leoprechting? The integral politics Congress some three years ago...It turned out very nicely, and elegant solution I can highly recommend.


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Hi Friends,

I like what Dave calls 'contextual applicability' and for me this applies to conflict. Within the context of Dave's work, he wants to increase conflict to keep people thinking, keep their novelty-receptive brain on, so that they will think/feel/intuit/scan larger amounts of data and bring that to the table to work with... instead of quickly assuming that they KNOW what this situation is all about.

OST has soooooo much happening, with conflict simply being one part of it. So it all depends on the context within which you want to use it and what outcomes you want.

Dave often takes a provocative approach and slams OST and AI, along with BPR and Six Sigma, and calls some people Fluffy Bunnines. However it is provocation to help people recognise that all methods can be useful contextually and not universally! I also don't think he has experienced OST used really well, and I saw in older blogs his AI views shifting as well.

For me there are soooooo many crossovers between the participatory methods used in AoH, and Cognitive Edge, and Human Systems Dynamics, Theory U, Technology of Participation, etc... and I love to play within, between, and among them!

Smiles Bhav...

I like what you contributed here, especially this part "he wants to increase conflict to keep people thinking, keep their novelty-receptive brain on, so that they will think/feel/intuit/scan larger amounts of data" - that is useful information!!!


Thanks Ria... I find Dave's work fascinating and it has influenced me a lot... I like the fact that Chris C has also taken a deep dive and it is now showing up in his work. I would be happy to have a few skypes to explore further if there is energy for that with those who are really interested!

Smiles Bhav...

Maybe do a proposal to Chris C. to set up a Skype call? and then announce via the emaillist and via the FB group - then it will work!

I found this a very interesting and valuable presentation. I teach about complexity myself, and would like to offer my reflections on his interpretations of complexity.

I disagree with David on many counts. One area where I agree with him wholeheartedly that we need to take care that we are applying the metaphors of the complexity sciences appropriately. However, this is notoriously difficult to do well as complexity is... well.... complex! I feel that David sometimes doesn't apply them appropriately himself.

For example. He says that complex systems are sensitive to small changes. That can be the case. However, it is not always so. Complex adaptive systems are nonlinear. This means indeed that small changes or interventions can have a large effect. By the same token, large changes or interventions may have small effects or a small intervention may have negligible effect. I would describe it that complex systems are more sensitive to the nature of the relationships between the agents whereas chaotic systems are more sensitive to the state of the agents themselves (in the mathematical sense of the term chaos - this is different to what David means by chaos in Cynefin. He means more randomness). Sensitive dependence on initial conditions (or the butterfly effect) is one of the defining features of a chaotic system in this mathematical sense. I think that perhaps he is lumping complex and chaotic systems together (again, in the mathematical sense of chaos) and he is definitely using the word chaos in a more colloquial sense of just meaning disordered or random. There are many types of complex dynamics that do not show sensitive dependence on initial conditions.

I totally disagree that the agents in complex systems are generally not people. I find it unfair of David to say that people that believe agents in a complex system are people don't know what they are talking about. Organisations can also be thought of as agents, but complex systems scientists often consider individuals as agents when using agent based modelling. It depends on which level you look whether people or organisations are the agents. All of the people in an organisation also influence each other in complex ways and together define the organisation. I have not heard of stories or myths being called agents before in this context but find it an interesting idea. I would think of stories and myths in these systems more as attractors. They push the agents into certain patterns of behaviour.

I further take issue with his idea that not all systems involving people are complex. I think they are. You may have an organisation that is not displaying complexity, but it is capable of it and just because it is operating in a simple way now doesn't mean there can't be a strike next week or a rumour that disrupts the flow etc. Scott Page of The Centre for the Study of Complex Systems jokes that we shouldn't call them complex systems anyway, they should be called "systems capable of producing complexity". And any system of humans is capable of producing complexity! I do however totally agree that not all situations involving groups of people call for the kind of methodologies that allow for emergence.

I can see his point that friction and disagreement is good for innovation. However, I am not sure that means the law of 2 feet is not helpful. I agree with many comments already made that OS can offer the opportunity for people to engage with disagreement. In my experience the law of 2 feet is always an invitation to leave the group if you have nothing to contribute or you are not learning anything. If you are in disagreement then you have something to contribute! Perhaps this could be made more explicit in the law of 2 feet (along with some instructions on non violent communication perhaps).

The last issue I have with David's way of describing things is that I define best practice differently. I would see his whole framework as an example of best practice! Best practice is for me absolutely not only applicable to simple situations.

Whilst I sometimes disagree with David's interpretations of complexity I find his framework fantastic. I think I mostly take issue with his use of language. His has great ideas for working with complexity. The idea of generating many safe to fail experiments I find a really smart way to deal with complexity and I feel it would be great to work it into the AoH practices like some other commenters have suggested.

I think in general AoH practices can help facilitate self-organisation and hence emergence. Processes like OS, but also world cafe do this very well. They provide that critical balance between structure and freedom. They give some boundaries within which unlimited options are possible. David also advocates this as a way of working with complexity and I heartily agree! We would perhaps do well to use the Cynefin framework to help identify whether a situation is appropriate for these kinds of self organising methodologies or not?

I also see in the comments that some people are eager to learn more about complexity in general. I teach about complexity myself - see However, hiring me or attending one of my workshops is perhaps not so convenient for most of you. So, if you want other, more directly accessible options I can recommend two good online courses.

From the Santa Fe Institute:

Introduction to Complexity

This course is excellent! Made by complexity scientists but very accessible to anyone with high school maths.

From the University of Groningen:

Decision Making in a Complex and Uncertain World

This course looks at applicability of what we know about complexity as well as just explaining some of the scientific concepts, including a section on leadership in a complex world.

Thanks Sophia! Fantastic contribution here!

Would you mind to explain me (and others) what's the difference of the word chaos used in 1)the chaordic path 2) Cynefin 3) how science uses it???

I think that would help me a lot, as I am not sure how they are different, although I have a hunch...

Hi Ria, and so I finally get to answering your question! Sorry it is so long, it is hard to be concise with this material I find!

I don't want to speak for the chaordic path and the cynefin framework definitively as whilst I am familiar with these processes, but certainly no expert in these theories. If you want to be sure how they are using the term chaos then perhaps you need to ask their founders. That said, I am happy to give you my impression and to explain a bit more about chaos in the mathematical sense...

In a mathematical sense, chaos is quite specific (and it is technically called deterministic chaos). Deterministic chaos is interested in how a dynamical system changes over time. Scientists use very simple iterated equations to generate and model chaos. Iterated just means repeated over and over. So you might have a simple equation that models population growth where you start with a particular population and then run the equation to see what the population will be in the next generation. This output becomes the new input and is put through the equation again to determine the following generation's population and so on ad infinitum. Even though the equations used are often very simple and totally unambiguous, the results of these equations can be very unpredictable in the longer term and they can generate wild and seemingly erratic fluctuations which is called deterministic chaos.

There are some consistent features of these kinds of chaotic systems.

  1. A system like this is very sensitive to the initial conditions – this is often called the butterfly effect (this means very sensitive to small changes in the state of the elements involved – one more person added to the population in one of these equations can cause the future population statistics to change dramatically)

  2. They can often generate seemingly random behaviour

  3. they sometimes have 'strange attractors', so that seemingly random behaviour to the observer can be shown to have some pattern to it if you map it in a certain way

  4. “even though prediction becomes impossible at the detailed level there are some higher level aspects of chaotic systems that are indeed predictable.” (Quoting Melanie Mitchell in her book Complexity a Guided Tour)

In the last point Melanie is talking about phenomena such as the period doubling route to chaos and Feigenbaum's constant which I won't go into here much except to say that systems can transition between being static, having repeating cycles, displaying complex patterns and displaying randomness (which may or may not be chaotic). As a system approaches a transition to deterministic chaos, it will often have a repeating pattern that contains a higher and higher number of values by doubling it's period each time (the period doubling route to chaos). For example a dripping tap will drip with one drip first, then if you increase the flow a little it will go to two drips in a cycle, then 4, then 8 and then it will eventually become chaotic in how the drips come. This is the period doubling route to chaos and it is seen frequently in systems capable of producing chaos.

This is all getting a bit technical, and it becomes difficult to build links back to the real world sometimes from the very abstract world of mathematical chaos. Real world systems that show the conditions of mathematical chaos include convection currents, the pattern of dripping taps, the pattern of the human heartbeat and chaos is also present in weather dynamics (which is why prediction is impossible in the longer term). In the real world each system we can look at is networked with other systems and embedded in broader systems so it then becomes near impossible to be able to just literally transfer knowledge from the abstracted and simplified world of chaos and complexity mathematics and modelling to a real world situation. If you take the human heartbeat as an example, this is a dependable organ which whilst having slight variations in the beat to beat interval time which slow a chaotic pattern is still producing very dependable results. In this way you can see how there can be small elements of chaos blended into larger, quite dependable complex systems.

Scott Page's online course called 'Model Thinking' I can highly recommend in terms of how the knowledge generated by modelling of both complexity and chaos is being applied.

David Feldmans course 'Introduction to Dynamical Systems and Chaos' is a very good one if you want to get a good basic understanding of deterministic chaos in general. You can find this on the Complexity Explorer website

So, before I come to talk about the chaordic path and cynefin, I want to point out that the terminology used in the complexity sciences is not actually consistently defined even amongst scientists sometimes. There are many different definitions for example of what complexity even is!! I consider deterministic chaos to fall under the banner of complex systems science and to be a form of complexity, but not everyone might think that way.

The term chaos as it is used colloquially means simply disordered. I think that this is the way that it is being used in the Chaordic Path and Cynefin. This kind of disorder may well be deterministic chaos or it may not. If scientists bothered to look for the signatures of chaos (such as sensitivity to initial conditions) they may be able to prove if it is deterministic chaos or not. In a way that doesn't really matter for the purposes of these processes/theories. The point I was making in my original post is that I think it should be called randomness or disorganised rather than chaotic when used in theories that are not scientific to make sure people don't believe it to be deterministic chaos. However, the term chaos is commonly used in theories in it's colloquial sense, this is just a part of how language has evolved. Whilst I feel it can be confusing and misleading sometimes, it is not actually 'wrong' to use it that way. The colloquial use was there before deterministic chaos was discovered after all. In some ways it is a small point at the end of the day, as I feel that both the Chaordic Path and Cynefin provide metaphors that are useful to people when working in complex situations. This is what we should focus on really.

I will just clarify one more thing. When David Snowdon speaks of systems being sensitive to small changes in his video, he is not necessarily only referring to the butterfly effect. The butterfly effect refers to changes in the state of individual elements in a system. There are also other sensitivities complex systems can have. Systems can be very sensitive to changes in the way that the elements are connected or the rules/constraints that govern how elements can operate in the system. Metaphorically, the butterfly effect might refer to changes that happen if one person is home sick from work one day and that sets a whole different chain of events in process in the organisation. The other sort of sensitivity I describe might refer to one small change in the rules governing how people can trade online leading to a whole other pattern emerging in the economy. In the first case the system hasn't changed in nature and is still capable of the same spectrum of behaviour it was before. In the second case, the nature of the system has changed and it might now display new patterns of behaviour that it was not capable of before.

I feel like I have typed enough for now. Phew! I will end by quoting Peter Senge from in the video of him posted above:

“What is all this 'systems perspective' stuff? … although we are familiar with the some of the lingo and a lot of the ideas … I think none of us understands what it means. Underline none of us, myself included. It really is the awakening of something that I think is very deep and will ultimately have a transformative impact on all of our institutions over the next 2-3 generations”

I agree with him 100% and I think it is very important to understand this and realise that these theories (when taken out of their scientific and mathematical arena) provide metaphors in the real world that can help us develop ways of thinking that are useful when dealing with complex situations. But - we should be wary of taking them too literally.

Dear Ria, thank you so much for posting this conversation here. I don't really check out FB too often...

and Sophia, thank you for your post... it confirms my sense that different people (including different scientists) are defining these terms differently... which gets confusing especially when people present their own definitions as though they are the "only way" to understand something.

I'm learning a lot from watching the video -- just got through the first one, very slowly, as I wanted to take notes. And, I do have some concerns....  one is, it seems Snowden is mushing together processes which require "ideal person" with processes that include any depiction of  "ideal future states", and dismissing those both quite quickly. As to the former, I completely get that we want to work with every day reality as it shows up, and totally agreed with not focusing on "ideal participants"...

As to the latter, I also agree that we don't want to prematurely define a single end state, we don't want to support premature convergence,  as that allows us to discover a more "sustainable and resilient future which we couldn't have anticipated". At the same time though, it seems to me that the valuing function is inherent, in even being able to determine which emerging patterns we want to amplify, and which ones we want to dampen...I am currently reading Vickers, and his description of humans as "appreciative systems" who are continuously making sense of what is, and contrasting that to what they would like it to be, seems quite brilliant and fundamental, both -- and also, part of what we would be doing in a complex system, whenever we choose which emerging patterns to amplify and which to dampen.

(How THAT choice squares with "not being agents" is not clear to me at all -- really glad you offered a different perspective on that one, Sophia!)

So, back to "desired states".... seems to me that surfacing participants' "desired states" (as we do in both Appreciative Inquiry and in Dynamic Facilitation, albeit in different ways) can be seen as a part of exploring the fullness of what is already present, right here right now, which includes the human valuing function --  and, it's not necessarily an attempt to overdetermine the future at all, unless we were to simply choose one of those desired futures and attempt to make it happen, instead of allowing it to be another element in the larger stew...

I still haven't seen the other videos, including Senge's, so I will come back later, once I have done so...

In closing, I must say that for all of his self-acknowledged "exaggerating to make a point", I find it much easier to watch Snowden in video form, than to read the polemics in his social media writing... I had quite a strong reaction to his sweeping, over-the-top dismissal of experiential evidence in his "it works for me" blog post which I only read a few days ago, though you had posted it quite some time back, Chris... 

The good part of that encounter, is it became a helpful example for a paper I was in the middle of writing (for a course on Praxis!) as an instance of the kind of attitudes that don't go very far in supporting a good  relationship between theory and practice. Now that I have finished doing my penance by watching this videotape, I am glad to see that he seems a bit kinder in person...  :-)

Open Space in Snowden language for FUN:

•Theme but no agenda
Disposition / Direction but no clear outcome except we should have some!
•Participants create agenda together
•Each individual participant decides what is best for them
Distributed cognition
•Participants are free to join any group and also leave the group at anytime
Safe-to-fail probes
•Most people report high amounts coincidences
Exaptation – because of messiness
•The person who suggested the topic is kind of in charge but can also leave conversation
No formal facilitator – closer to natural conversations with freedom to allow conversation to flow – no agenda
•Discussion notes captured and shared with everybody leading to the emergence of results that could not have been predicted in advance
•There are 4 principles and 1 Law that guide behaviour
Heuristics / Simple Rules

P.S. I have started using a few rounds of ritual dissent followed by a round of appreciative inquiry when facilitating probe/prototype development.

Bhavesh, great that you are posting and contributing here!


it might reach more people if you post it on the AoH FB group or on the AoH emaillist; just my idea.
With love,


could you say more about this - sounds really interesting!


Bhavesh Patel said:

P.S. I have started using a few rounds of ritual dissent followed by a round of appreciative inquiry when facilitating probe/prototype development.

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