Cognitive Edge accreditation – Day 1

Published by Richard Hare on

Day one of the accreditation course dawns overcast but not cold. Up at 5:00am, I find my 6:45am train actually leaves at 6:42am, so I miss it despite running all the way to the station – which is noticeably further to run now we’ve moved house. I lament not having organised everything the night before when I was occupied by the German parents group celebrating St. Martins Day with a puppet show, stories, songs and a traipse around Cherry Hinton Hall grounds with homemade lanterns, singing. I divert to the Liverpool Street branch which should see me in Hammersmith around the same time, a decision I congratulate myself on when Ron turns up twenty minutes late complaining of delays due to a broken rail outside Kings Cross.

Morning session: origins and complexity
I arrive on time. It’s overcast at the London Wetlands Centre which is quiet, although there is plenty of activity on the water. There’ll be no coffee until the first break, so I’ll be sustaining myself on interest alone.

Dave kicks off the first session with some background about Cognitive Edge, an introduction to naturalising sense-making, complexity science and the Cynefin framework. The goal of sense-making, he says, is a better understanding of where we are today so we can decide what to do next. This sounds very like why I’m here.

I’ve followed Dave’s blog since early on and the language isn’t as scary as it once was. I barely blench the first time the word “ontology” appears and I am more than comfortable for “epistemology” to make an appearance.

We’re repeatedly told day one is intense, though it doesn’t appear so from the material. The exercises are a little rushed though, something we are told will be remedied on future courses by reorgnising the material into beginners and advanced courses.

Butterfly Stamping

Our first exercise involves a sheet of items to make sense of. Our table blows it by attempting to categorise the items onto the Cynefin framework, earning a rebuke from Dave for being of an “I.T.” mentality. We should have concentrated on the relationships between the items instead and built the framework using those. I think. I’m not certain, but there’s little time for a post mortem as we must move on quickly.

The Future Backwards

Steve Bealing takes over for the morning’s second session as Dave departs to an appointment alongside Tony who’s been looking on from the back of the room during the first session.

The next exercise sees us examining a current issue, tracing the issue back through a series of milestones over time, then working from a turning point to create visions of heaven and hell based on a series of turning points with some random factors thrown in.

Tracing backwards is supposed to help us avoid “retrospective coherence” and “premature convergence”, the simplicity which hindsight can introduce to a complex situation. It seems to make it harder – for a group with an I.T. mentality – to understand history without examining case and effect.

This time we take the result and attempt to understand the relationships between the events – but we blow it again. We were supposed to classify it onto the Cynefin model. Weren’t we? Again I’m not sure and there’s no time to linger and learn from our failure.

Social Network Stimulation

The most instantly useful technique I learn on day one is Ritual Dissent. We’ve struggled to get people to listen to feedback, a crucial phase in the Deep Dive innovation workshops we run. No matter how we organise the session, as soon as a team presents its design, the presenter naturally attempts to engage with dialogue with his critic. This is less of a problem at Ideo where the method is inculcated into the designers, but where people aren’t naturally familiar with it, we need something else.

Ritual Dissent solves this problem by turning the presenter 180 degrees to face away from their audience and listen to the feedback. The contact and desire to engage in debate rather than just listen is instantly broken.

End of day one

We repair back to Hammersmith to a pub on the river for a few pints and something to eat. I don’t linger too long as I have to be up early again tomorrow. Perhaps a hotel might’ve been a more sensible option..!

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