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Dave Snowden

What’s it all about?

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I spent the latter part of today in Pontio at Bangor University. I was there to attend a lecture on innovation and then attend a dinner with some of the key players involved in the centre. This picture shows the new building which is a bridge (Pontio in welsh) between the University and the War Memorial, linking academic life with harsh reality through aesthetics. I like the concept and also the execution, but not the hideous sculpture (not shown) which looks like something salvaged from a 1960’s Doctor Who set – many of those were filmed nearby in Snowdonia. I worked to make sure the picture didn’t include it.

One of my tasks at the moment is to get ready for the launch of the Centre for Applied Complexity (CfAC) on the 2nd March when I have to deliver a guest lecture of my own. I’ve been thinking through some of the key theoretical elements, themes, or ways of thinking that can define CfAC, and which will form the basis for the lecture. The list below is very much early thinking and I very much doubt it will survive the next month. It is in part about CfAC, but also about linking to other activities in the University and Wales.

  1. Complexity adaptive systems represents a powerful new way of thinking about the world and has the potential to transform our understanding of and interaction with society.  But we need to take an anthro-centric perspective to complexity; humans change identity based on context, they have intelligence and can exhibit intentionality.  All three of these mean the study of complexity in human systems is a trans-disciplinary process.  
  2. From an ethical perspective, but also a theoretical perspective, trying to drive change in a human system based on centrally derived goals is a mistake.  We can have a sense of direction, a vector, but specific goals and process/outcome based targets will always end up perverting the system.  Manipulative approaches to change or the management of symptoms to avoid dealing with the situation itself are increasingly popular and increasingly dangerous.  Alternatives involve allowing people in the system to describe their various journeys and then, and only then, to look at small investments and support to shift things in a slightly different direction or at a different speed.
  3. Innovation needs us to design systems that are exaptive as much as adaptive in nature.  We need to find ways to repurpose existing capability as much as to adapt to know needs.  That means bringing together half, or unarticulated needs with capabilities as yet not fully formed, or which are developed for another purpose.  Industrialisation of ‘design’ thinking is a real problem here in both theory and practice.  New approaches need to be developed which change the engagement model to one that allows emergent beneficial patterns to be stimulated, and then reinforced.

Underpinning a lot of these is the recognition that the world can no longer wait for linear solutions, or live with the consequences of current thinking. CfAC is all about starting this type of change, building on the last ten years of work in Cognitive Edge

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