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15 June 2007


Dave Snowden

You solved my problem (on waking up early in Singapore) on What should be the subject of today's Blog? Response here

Art Hutchinson

The following is a dupe of a comment I left on Dave's blog a few minutes ago. Apologies for the cross-post if anyone's already been there.

I'll respond here lest this balloon to something larger than is warranted by our respectively limited inside knowledge of one anothers' specific processes and practices.

Re. point one (reductionism): to the degree that that term is being used non-judgmentally, I happily plead guilty. One must be reductionist to some degree so long as time, money and collective cognitive bandwidth are at issue--and they always are.

An analogy: When I am trying to decide what to have for dinner, I consider the menus posted on my refrigerator, the food in it (and the pantry), the cookbooks I own and maybe an on-line search of Zagat and some cooking sites. Already, that is a vast universe of possibility. Its size is practically constrained by things such as my budget, my cooking skill, my hunger level and the time I have. Only in the rarest of cases would it be worthwhile to open up my dinner search to every possible foodstuff, cookbook, technique and restaurant on the planet.

Another, closer analogy: alphabets and languages are inherently reductionist of the human mind--limiting the range of thoughts that may be communicated--yet we find them essential as a basis for social organization.

Re. facilitator's role: agree. The first time I ran a group that preferred to converse in a language with no hooks to my own was a watershed experience.

Re. point three and your conclusion: see my analogies above. When one's time and resources are unconstrained, I would agree: the more open-ended the better. We have powerful brains. We should use them. No sense putting on blinders, parking brakes, rev-limiters or the like. Thus my thought that your processes are (among other things) better thought of as preceding scenarios rather than following them. (One boils the syrup at the beginning not the end of the candy-making process.)

Cognitive condensation of some kind must happen at some point between ideation and implementation. I think we are sparring over where and how that should take place and how transparent it needs to be and not whether it is essential. We can agree (I hope) that there is a case to be made for cognitive condensation happening with high transparency in a large-group meeting versus outside of it via other processes that involve individuals delegated to and specializing in such tasks (e.g., the consultant) to a greater or lesser degree.

One thing we haven't touched on is risk. Both over-condensation and under-condensation of the problem space each involve it. On a very long continuum between super-reductionist ("my way or the highway") tyranical thinking and totally fantastical and unconstrained ("all ideas are equally worthy, including colonies of pink elephants growing endive on Mars"), different organizations, faced by different types of problems and resource constraints will (and should) choose different flavors of risk and thus different approaches to condensing the range of possibility they need to consider.

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