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Of tittering, twittering & twitterpating

By Dave Snowden  ·  July 16, 2013  ·  Conference blogs

The collective noun for magpies is a tittering which is slightly less scary than their close relatives a murder of magpies.  It was one of the comments I made in my closing session at IRHASS13.   Now I have been at all five IRHASS events and for the last three my role has been to provide an end point to each day.   It's not so much a summary, its more the role of being a constructive irritant, a curmudgeonly  but entertaining end to the day; a role that I enjoy.  You can find the slides for both days here.  I have developed a habit of using the first day to establish some contrary and challenging ideas and day two to provide some form of structure to understand what has gone before. 

Thereis a element of twitterpating about events of this kind, a falling in love in the springtime and my reference to magpies was a warning similar to that of Owl to Bambi.  The first film I ever saw by the way, back on its 1957 re-release as a treat for being treated for an astigmatism in Oxford Eye Hospital when very young.  Magpies gather in bright shinny things for their nests and there is a danger of simply grabbing a method or tool without thinking about its use.  We need to draw a fine line between legitimate experimentation and slipping into magpiedom and the legitimacy probably depends on the degree to which there is a coherent narrative around the core activity.

Aside from that I made a serious of points that apply more generally, as well as to the foresight community who were my primary targets.  They included:

  • The whole success of social computing is because it conforms to the three heuristics of complex systems: finely grained objects, distributed cognition & disintermediation
  • I an uncertain world we need fast, real time feedbacks not linear processes and criticism includes short cycle experimental processes which remain linear.
  • The real dangers are retrospective coherence and premature convergence
  • Narrative is vital, but story-telling is at best ambiguous
  • Need to shift from thinking about drivers to modulators
  • You can't eliminate cognitive bias, you work with it
  • Extrinsic rewards destroy intrinsic motivation
  • Messy coherence is the essence of managing complexity

Now all of those will be familiar to regular readers of this blog, but they were delivered with passion.  The video will be published sometime in August and I'll try and remember to link as soon as I spot its up.  To be honest having this role is an indulgence, you listen carefully all day keeping notes and then in the final hour start to throw together some slides before going on stage making the final changes as you walk up to the podium.  I love it!

Oh, a few of us also decided that the collective noun for curmudgeons was probably a cacophony. I won't name names but you know who you are!