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The narrative papers

By Dave Snowden  ·  January 24, 2013  ·  Narrative

I provided a summary of some of the key book chapters I have authored, or pro-authored earlier this month along with another of the key Cynefin articles.  As promised I want to go on to other papers that addressed issues other than Cynefin.  There have been a fair number over the years, particularly in the area of knowledge management which is where all of this got started.  A lot of those are out of date as the field has moved on, but I don't think I want to deny any of the material, although I would change them if I was writing them again.

Back in the Knowledge Management days I produced a lot of material in the more popular journals.  The field was in its infancy so it was possible to escape the short case based give us a recipe type article that they are now interested in.  So some of the early articles explored ideas that later moved into methods and then in turn the theory was refined as the complexity and cognitive background reading and thinking progressed.  A lot of those articles were simple cynical common sense to be honest; the good news was that common sense turned out to have a sound scientific base and cynicism keeps you sane and the organisation honest.

So to the articles, and in this post I want to focus on narrative, others tomorrow.

  • Bramble Buses in a Thicket was co-authored with Cynthia Kurtz and is technically a book chapter, but the material is on our web site so I have included it here.  Cynthia and I used to say that our first article New Dynamics of Strategy was mainly me, and this was mainly her which is fair enough.  But the backwards and forwards work and stimulation means its always difficult to tell who started what idea.  Either way this article looks at networks and narrative.  Its also the first time I put in place the difference between idealistic (define a future state close the gap) and pragmatic (work with the present, evolve to a more resilient but unknowable future) approaches. The article also explores issues of identity and is the first to talk about social network stimulation.  There is a strong narrative element to this article linked to identity
  • My Frontiers article in ECO v7 3-4 was focused on narrative and is one of the best descriptions of archetype creation and use.  I target appreciative enquiry and therapy based approaches in general as well as a fair number of consultancy approaches to narrative.  In another Frontiers piece (v8-1) I also picked up on the idealist issue as well as looking at weak signal detection.  I really should have spent more time on those columns but they were time consuming and life was busy.
  • The early work on story was summarised in a two part article Art and Science of Story.  The first Gathering and harvesting talks about exactly that!  The second part The weft and the warp of purposeful story tals about different types of story and contrasts what was then The Cynefin Centre's approach with other methods.  It contains the basic template for the Water Engineers Story which I really must get round to recording as its a classic.
  • Archetypes as an instrument of narrative patterning is a brief article for a KM magazine which talks about the use of archetypes in a variety of situations; understanding customers, merging cultures and representing culture.  Re-reading it for this post its still valuable.
  • Simple but not simplistic talks about seven characteristics of Story and expands again on the archetype work but also introduces the use of fables for managing the mission and values of an organisation.  Work I have continued and developed but with a greater emphasis on parables in recent years.  This article also covers disruptive metaphor and some warnings on issues of ethics and the like.
  • Narrative patterns was my contribution to an IKM book on Knowledge Management and it was much reprinted and used at various IKM events.  Its a good summary piece and includes the idea of a Story Virus for the first time and the use of fable for communication.
  • I published two articles in Business Information Review way back in 1999.  The first An old skill in a new context is useful for those who want to explore some of the early thinking and is the first use of Anecdote rather than story.  It also looks at story as a knowledge disclosure mechanism which was how I got into the field, as well as a means to create meaning and understanding.  It shows the early work here was not about story telling, but about meaning a critical aspect of the early evolution of the ideas.  Part two appears to be missing so I will try and hunt that down.

There are others but that gives you an idea of the range of material.  It also shows the provenance, a lot of people have picked up the basis material from those days in IBM and many of the words are current.  Reading the above will show you where things got started.