Complexity Science and Design Studio for Product Teams


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  • We believe that having disciplined capabilities allows us to take greater risks. When the marines in the US go to war, they have EXTREME autonomy... but they are not expected to learn to fire a weapon on the field of battle. In the same way... when you go for a hike into the wilderness, going unprepared isn ’ t adventurous, it is suicidal. Effective training in Good Practice and Theory allows individuals to contribute with confidence SOOO....
  • I want to start with some narrative fragments – short stories that require decision making and action. Not all these stories are the same, and each must be managed in a different way.
  • Agents are free to make their own decisions based on the current traffic... lightly constrained... many possible options
  • attempts to automate result in loss of capability and increasingly complex implementations (Ashby)
  • Before we introduce the cynefin model. Pronounced, “ kug-ne-vin ” a caveat about models, learning, and knowledge.
  • Ordered domain is where there is consistent, repeatable causality. Un-Order means there is never consisitent, repeatable causal relations
  • The Domain of Best Practice. Characterized by stability and clear cause-and-effect relationships that everyone can understand. Realm of “known knowns,” decisions are unquestioned, little subject to change. This is for heavily process-oriented situations. This domain is most subject to disruption!
  • Complicated domains, unlike simple ones, may contain multiple right answers, and though there is clear relationship between cause and effect, not everyone sees it. This is the realm of “known unknowns” A motorist may know something is wrong with his car, but he needs an expert to diagnose the problem. This is the domain of experts, and Good Practice because there could be multiple good solutions, all of which will work.
  • In complex context, we can only understand why things happened in retrospect. This is the realm of “unknown unknowns” and it this is where most business has shifted. This is where you need to stimulate the situation through probes, see patterns that emerge, amplify the positive ones, and quickly destroy the negative ones. Leaders who try to impose order in a complex context will fail, but those who set the stage, step back a bit, allow patterns to emerge, and determine which ones are desirable will succeed.
  • In chaos, search for right answers is pointless. All agents are unconstrained. Causal relationships are impossible to determine. This is the domain of turbulence. The domain of Unknowables. The events immediately during and after 9/11 fall into this category. A leader must first act to establish order, then sense where stability is present and from where it is absent, then transform the situation from chaos to complexity. Unfortunately, most leadership recipes arise from examples of good crisis management.
  • This is where you have no fucking clue which domain you are actually in. Multiple perspectives and actors fight for dominance. The way out is to break the situation down into parts, and address each fragment separately.
  • The lines are the stregnth or weakness of the edge between nodes. Nodes are people. Edges are connections. Graph theory, bitches Simple: Strong Hierarchies, Loose Network Complicated: Strong Hierarchies & Strong Networks Complex: Loose Hierarchies & Strong Networks Chaos: No Hierarchy & Weak Networks
  • Requires an effective balance of communication and Agency Communication needs to be focused on Problem Statement and Potential Impacts of Solution premature communication causes convergence often "communicating ignorance hiding knowledge"
  • Not a line... a gradient boundary... cynefin... high school
  • Not a line... a gradient boundary... cynefin... high school
  • Not a line... a gradient boundary... cynefin... high school
  • Complexity Science and Design Studio for Product Teams

    1. Complexity ScienceAnd Design Studio for Product Teams
    2. @semanticwill
    3. This talk is an MPV (Minimum Viable Presentation)• The page was the “Pitch MVP”• 85 people signed up• So I wrote the talk this 2 weeks ago• To learn to give this talk• This talk is how we think & manage at TLCLabs• This is the second time I have given this talk 3
    4. Take-aways• Context matters – good leaders are adept at knowing which context they are in• Different contexts (ontologies) require different epistemologies• Best practice is always past practice• Beware of “complexity bias” or “complexity fetishism”• Praxis makes perfect 4
    5. There is no coming to consciousness without pain. - Carl Jung 5
    6. We always begin withCONTEXT 6
    7. Narrative fragments• You have an idea for a startup• A customer wants to unsubscribe from your emails• You just hired an amazing user experience designer• 9 of your 13 load-balancing nodes have just gone down• You have lost 6 of your best platform engineers in the past month• You and your board of directors have decided to take your company public
    8. Problem Statement• All too often, leaders, managers, teams, rely on common approaches that may work well in one context, and fail in another• Too often, we assume the work we do is determinist and ordered, with a degree of predictability• Products designed for one context (US market), rarely solve problems in a different context (Asia) 8
    9. Epistemology The study of knowledge and justified belief. •What are the necessary and sufficient conditions of knowledge? •What are its sources? •How are we to understand the concept of justification? •What makes beliefs justified? •Is justification internal or external to one’s own mind? 9
    10. Naturizing sense-making• How do we make sense of the world so that we can act in it?• Rejecting idealism and the myth of the right answer.• Evidence based strategy using natural sciences and humanities – Complex adaptive systems theory – The cognitive sciences
    11. From anticipation –to anticipatory awareness 11
    12. On the nature of complex adaptive systems.COMPLEX ADAPTIVE SYSTEMS 12
    13. The nature of systems• A system is any network that has coherence it may be fuzzy, it may or may not have a purpose• An agent is anything which acts within the system 13
    14. The nature of systemsThree types:• Ordered: system constrains agents, reductionism and rules, deterministic, observer independence, clear causality• Chaotic System: agents unconstrained and independent of each other• Complex System: lightly constrains agents, agents modify the system by their interaction with it and each other. They co-evolve. 14
    15. Lightly constrained systemDISTRIBUTED COGNITION 15
    16. 16
    17. Tightly constrained systemCENTRALIZED COGNITION
    19. Aspects of complex systems• Highly sensitive to small changes• Proximity and connectivity of nodes is key• Meaning emerges through interaction• Think of coalescence, not categories• Hindsight does not lead to foresight• Shift from fail-safe design to safe-to-fail experimentation
    20. 22
    21. CYNEFIN MODEL 23
    22. Sense-makingNOT CATEGORIZATION 24
    23. Cynefin 25
    24. Cynefin The place of your multiple belongings. 26
    25. Un-Order Order 27
    26. Simple 28
    27. Complicated 29
    28. Complex 30
    29. Chaotic 31
    30. Disorder 32
    31. Meaning exist in theinteraction between things,not in the things themselves Alicia Juarrero 33
    32. Cynefin 34
    33. Cynefin 35
    34. Cynefin Emergent Good Practice Practice Novel Best Practice 36
    35. Cynefin Emergent Good Practice Probe Sense Sense Analyze Respond Respond Novel Best Practice Act Sense Sense Categorize Respond Respond 37
    36. Cynefin Trust that individuals Trust the expert are doing their best Trust Leadership Trust the fucking manual 38
    37. Communication Communication Agency Agency Communication Communication Agency Agency39
    38. 40
    39. When ontologies change, so too doesepistemology.Both the nature of the system and ourawareness of that nature (they are not thesame thing), result in a need to shift thenature of our acts of knowing orepistemologies. Dave Snowden 41
    41. Narrative FragmentsIt’s 930am on Monday morning, and you’vesent out your email newsletter to 5 millionsubscribers.At 937, 9 of your 13 load-balancing nodes godown. 43
    42. Narrative FragmentsYou just hired an amazing user experiencedesigner. Today is her first day of work. 44
    43. Narrative FragmentsYou and your board of directors have decidedto take your company public. 45
    44. Narrative FragmentsOver the past two months, you have lost 6 ofyour top platform engineers. 46
    45. Cynefin Emergent Good Practice Probe Sense Sense Analyze Respond Respond Novel Best Practice Act Sense Sense Categorize Respond Respond 47
    46. Cynefin Complex Complicated Chaos Simple 48
    47. Cynefin 49
    48. Tools to Manage in aComplex Context 50
    49. Design Studio for Complexity Thinking• Relax constraints• Open up for discussion & debate• Rapid, generative ideation (abductive thinking)• Set barriers (once barriers are set, people can self- regulate) – time boxes, rules of engagement• Amplify positive patterns• Encourage dissent & diversity (ritual dissent/assent)• Manage through constraints• Avoid “premature convergence”• Run multiple, contradictory experiments 51
    50. Collaboration, cohererence,consensus, and prematureconvergence 52
    51. Fail-safe versusSafe-to-Fail 53
    52. Multiple hypothesis testing 54
    53. Ritual assent | Ritualdissent 55
    54. Active decision-makingmodel
    55. Take-aways• Context matters – good leaders are adept at knowing which context they are in• Different contexts (ontologies) require different epistemologies• Best practice is always past practice• Beware of “complexity bias” or “complexity fetishism”• Praxis makes perfect 57
    56. Cynefin 58
    57. @semanticwill 60
    58. 61