I met my first User Experience designer in the late nineties. My boss hired a guy with a PhD in the subject. I asked him “What is the most important thing in interface design?”. His answer “Forgiveness”. He explained that Forgiveness was a UX concept that allowed the user to gracefully recover from failure. Without me knowing it, he was one of my earliest mentors in the field of real options.

I now consider Forgiveness to be an indication of a high quality system. When your interaction with the system fails, does it do so gracefully, or does it require you to jump through a number of painful hoops until you get back to where you were originally? Of course, the only way to see how a system handles failure is to experience failure. Until you experience failure, you do not know whether the interface will perform as described. Many systems claim to handle failure gracefully but not all system do. If you really want a deep understandinf of a system, you need to see how it fails.

When I think of systems, I think of People and Relationships and Groups and Organisations and Communites and Societies, oh and Computer Systems. For me, the most interesting systems are those that contain people ( Complex Adaptive Systems ).

Sometimes, failure in one of these systems means expulsion or a loss of status. These systems discourage people from experimenting, or playing to close to the edge of chaos. By doing so, these systems discourage deep learning at the edge. They discourage people from seeking out and challenging the axiom ( or beliefs ) of the system. The Catholic Church’s original treatment of Gallileo is a classic example of this. Eventually the Church forgave Gallileo but it might have been five hundred years to late for him to care.

Just over two weeks ago I attended the CALMalpha event. This event hoped to bring together Cynefin, Agile and Lean communities to explore whether there were any ways that they could help each other learn. For me it was a bust. I did not really learn anything* as I was already familiar with most of the material. I had fun and I enjoyed meeting old friends and new. Meeting new friends and old justifies the attendance. Although I did not learn much I am grateful to the faculty for making the event happen. In particular Joseph Pelrine who prepared a lot of new material to describe his journey with Cynfein.

Several tweetable soundbites (you can check them on twitter I think ) spring to mind from the event about the Cynefin version of social complexity…

  • Seek out the cynics as they really care. The rest are just corporate survivors.
  • Experiment in a “safe to fail” environment.
  • The only way to understand a complex environment is to act within it.
  • Ritual Dissent uses ritual to protect people from negative feedback.
  • Complex situations are understood in retrospect.

As I journeyed home I compared Ritual Dissent to Feature Injection’s “Break the Model”. One advantage of Ritual Dissent is that it provides a mechnism for those with negative intent to feedback on ideas whereas otherwise they may not. I had not realised how important the ritual was to the process.

A significant proportion of the activity in the Agile and Lean Communities takes place on line in e:mail groups, linkedin groups, blogs, Skype and twitter. Conferences are an opportunity to re-energise and build new collaborations. Conferences are not the conversation, they are a high bandwidth blip in the conversation.

The Cynefin community seems to be much more close knit and more based on face to face contact with the central leadership. Joseph’s social network analysis seemed to indicate as much. This is possibly because most of the intereaction is through courses to date rather than through conferences and meetups.

Here are my retrospective thoughts.

Prompted by Willem’s blog, I wrote up my experiences of the CALMalpha event. I did it in the style of Ritual Dissent. In effect, I acted within the system to understand it.

I failed. And I apologised. I failed to apply Ritual Dissent correctly. Did I do it intentially? No. Did I pay attention properly when it was explained? No, I was hungover and too busy avoiding having to take my turn.

I was the cynic. I was the one to be sought out because I cared. If I did not care, it would have been much easier to keep my comments private.

There are a number of questions in my mind.

  • Did I fail in a safe environment?
  • Does the Cynefin community really value cynics?

and of course…

  • Does the Cynefin community exhibit forgiveness?

Last week I went to #ScanAgile where Dave Snowden and Jospeh Pelrine were also speakers. I was more than a little uncertain how  things would play out as my failure had been pretty spectacular. I had a wonderful chat with Joseph Perine about the whole episode at breakfast. I was then fortunate enough to have a walk around Helsinki with Dave Snowden, Mika Latokartano (who acted as our guide) and Olaf Lewitz. Dave treat Mika and I to a wonderful luinch before Mika drove Dave and I to the airport.

Does the Cynefin community exhibit forgiveness? That’ll be a bug yes.

I learned a lot since the Cynefin event. I look forward to helping the CALMbeta event (from a distance as I limit my travel to the USA).

* not quite true. I did learn a lot from Jabe Bloom about photography. His ideas have already started to affect the way I take pictures.

About theitriskmanager

Currently an “engineering performance coach” because “transformation” and “Agile” are now toxic. In the past, “Transformation lead”, “Agile Coach”, “Programme Manager”, “Project Manager”, “Business Analyst”, and “Developer”. Did some stuff with the Agile Community. Put the “Given” into “Given-When-Then”. Discovered “Real Options” View all posts by theitriskmanager

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