Why I Blog: A Taskonomy for Making Sense of, and Coping with, Complexity

Taskonomy of Complexity
Something suddenly clicked last night (another night of insomnia) when I was thinking about Dave Snowden’s ontologies (especially his probe-sense-respond ontology for complex systems), and about my plan to convert the taxonomy of my blog Table of Contents to a taskonomy (i.e. organized by most likely use rather than by subject matter), and about how people learn versus how we try to teach. The result is the graphic above.It seems to me, from my research on how indigenous cultures learn, that the only way we effectively learn to make sense of, and cope with, complex systems (including all natural ecological systems and social systems) is by a three-stage process:

  1. Sensing and Probing: Listening, observing, paying attention, reading, intuiting, appreciating, and opening ourselves to information, sensations, ideas, and our own instincts.
  2. Learning and Discovering: Using the results of our sensing and probing by ‘making sense’, playing, imagining, speculating, entertaining (=holding ourselves open to), interpreting, synthesizing, integrating, creating models, trying stuff out, letting ourselves believe and be empowered, and in the process developing new capacities (for sensing, learning and responding).
  3. Reacting and Responding: Using the results of our learning and discovering by understanding, letting-ourselves-change, acting (rationally, emotionally, instinctively, and both consciously and subconsciously), realizing (=making real), allowing to emerge, collaborating and innovating.

This is quite different from the way we make sense of, and deal with, merely complicated systems (a knowledge-gathering/ analysis/ implement change process that draws on more complete knowledge of relevant variables and causality, where events and results of actions are more predictable, and where we have enough control over the system to be reasonably sure that the ‘change process’ we invoke will be effective). One of the major reasons for the prevalence of ‘wicked’ intractable problems in our society, and for the dysfunction of so many of our human institutions, systems and processes, is that we mistake complex systems and situations for merely complicated ones (or deliberately oversimplify them) and hence use the wrong, complicated system process to deal with them. This rarely works and often makes things worse, as our recent actions in Afghanistan, Iraq and New Orleans so clearly demonstrate. In business, we make the same mistake, which is why most ‘change projects’ in business fail.

The purpose of my AHA! project, and my more recent proposal to draw together the various complex system methodologies of Snowden, Scharmer/Varela, Open Space, Wisdom of Crowds, Princen and Brody, is to develop a theory and Let-Self-Change based approach to cope with complex systems and situations. The taskonomy in the graphic above is my first stab at a model for such a theory/approach.

While the three-stage sense-making/coping process shown in the blue, orange and green boxes above is, I think, appropriate for dealing with complexity as individuals, I wanted to expand it to also show how we deal with complexity collectively and interactively. The purple box at left is an attempt to do this. At any point in time, in coordinated, facilitated, cooperative and collaborative activities, and in conversations (including the tacit conversations between writers and readers), we alternate between two roles: the speaker/relater role and the listener/reader role. In the role of relater (=bringing to), by telling stories, showing, helping imagine, informing (=adding meaning to), bringing attention to, entertaining (=holding others’ attention), contextualizing, adding insight, inciting, provoking/persuading, synthesizing, suggesting, creating models, enabling and facilitating (and combinations of these activities such as teaching and coaching), we enable and enhance the listener/reader/student’s sensing and probing (stage 1), and learning and discovering (stage 2) sense-making and coping activities. And in turn, others enable and enhance our own sense-making and coping activities through their relating activities.

Does this strike you with the same aha! as it did me? Is this the foundation for a framework for making us all more effective at dealing with the pervasive challenges of complex systems, including the natural, ecological and social systems we seem to be screwing up the worst with traditional merely-complicated approaches? Or is it (no pun intended) more complex than this — is this just Dave Pollard’s model of learning in complex environments, unsuited to others who learn differently?

Another reason I intuitively like this model is that it can accommodate our Genius (what we love doing and do uniquely well) and our Purpose (why we’re here), and give us some ideas how to apply our Genius to achieve our Purpose. In my case, for example, my Genius is imagining opportunities, which maps to the helping imagine relating activity in the purple box above. My Purpose is fomenting/provoking change — especially if it brings about the Let-Self-Change and Realizing activities in the green box above.

My reasons for blogging include all of the relating activities in the purple box above, but most importantly (for me) I blog to help people imagine possibilities (such as a better way to live, and make a living) and to provoke or incite them to action. Recently the former has become much more important to me, and the latter less important, because I’ve realized that there is not much point in provoking or inciting people to be dissatisfied if it just makes them unhappy — if they can’t ‘see’, or can’t make, the changes needed to act upon that dissatisfaction.

Bringing this all back to my Tables of Contents, I’ve looked at each of the 46 subjects in my existing ToC taxonomy and reframed each of them as gerundives (action words ending in -ing) to suggest how the articles in each category might be used. Here’s the result, shown as a mindmap:

Blog Taskonomy
I’m not sure this makes my Tables of Contents more useful, largely because in their relater role, my articles often try to do more than just one thing — they may, for example, endeavour to synthesize information, then help the reader imagine some possibilities, and then suggest someactions that could realize those possibilities.

What do you think?

This entry was posted in Using Weblogs and Technology, Working Smarter. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Why I Blog: A Taskonomy for Making Sense of, and Coping with, Complexity

  1. Hi Dave! Long time no chat. It’s looking good so far. The only thing i can see that you might want to add is the connection back, the looping round. All biological learning systems run on feedback loops, so i figure you need to get yours looping. I would run an arrow from the react/respond bubble back up to the relate bubble. We need to tell our stories in order to solidify and refine our learning anyway. And that leads us nicely back to the sensing bubble–where we can re-experience/experiment with our newly adjusted self. Cheers,Wendy

  2. Gary Rondeau says:

    How do we get past “magical thinking”? Our minds are so programmed to see connections and make inferences based upon coincedental events that it’s often very hard ignore what seems must be cause and effect. I have a coworker who regularly comes up with cause and effect pairs that have no basis in fact. (We make rather complex electromechanical systems and there is always something going wrong – so there is plenty of oppertuninty to see this kind of thinking in operation.) The skeptical scientist must understand the “mechanism”; the statistitian must at least see “statistical significance”, but most of us are happy to accept what we think we see at face value without reflection. I wonder if the “strict parent” is partially responcible for the lack of critical thinking in some people. The authoritative voice dispenses wisdom often in the form of magic pronoucemtns. Then again, we are so readily entertained we are often asked to suspend disbelief, and at some point blur the line into magical thinking.

  3. Dave Pollard says:

    Wendy: Thanks, good idea.Gary: This is interesting. I don’t think humans (or any creatures) are really ‘programmed’ for managing complexity, mainly because nature has always looked after it for us (perhaps wisely not trusting us). Most of our coping with complexity (all but 18 bits out of 16 million bits per second) is subconscious and intuitive — “unthinking”. Because this is unfathomable, it is infuriating to the scientist and statistician. I don’t know that I’d blame the ‘strict parent’ for our propensity to magical, uncritical thinking so much as our sheer lack of practice and skill at critical thinking, and the fact that logical, critical thinking by itself just isn’t up to the job of surviving. Probing and sensing (and sense-making) are largely about pattern-seeking and pattern-recognition, so it’s not really surprising that when we notice patterns we are (often overly) eager to see significance, causality and predictive value in them. Watch children learn and you’ll see they learn by overshoot, by trial and error, to nuance their judgement — IF they get enough practice!

  4. Gary Rondeau says:

    Dave, fair enough. I guess I would argue that human beings are at the crux where cultural evolution has surpassed genetic evolution as the dominant mode of change. Genetic evolution has endowed us with the wonderful capacity to reason, draw inferences, and build abstract concepts. But it is cultural evolution that distinguishes us from the other higher primates. Cultural evolution requires that our children

  5. Robyn Jay says:

    Thanks for a great model Dave. As manager of a large professional development project in vocational education and training it captured well what we are trying to achieve through our blog and what we hope team facilitators are doing out in the field assisting practitioners to get their head around the complexities of e-learning.

Comments are closed.