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The Library

Sonja Blignaut South Africa
Through my involvement with the Cognitive Edge Network I've built relationships with people from many disparate places around the globe.

It's been almost 10 years since I first encountered Dave Snowden and his (then) radical thinking. I was still part of IBM at the time, and I found his thinking and consulting paradigm to be a breath of fresh air in the recipe saturated consulting world. I was involved in several of the early projects within a big South African bank, ranging from strategy and culture to knowledge management. I left IBM and started my own consulting company so that I could focus on interesting projects and continue using these methods. Currently I am co-owner (with Aiden Choles) of The Narrative Lab, our focus mainly on consulting and research. We are also the South African training partner for Cognitive Edge. We work in several industries including financial services, energy, mining and education.

Through my involvement with the Cognitive Edge Network I've built relationships with people from many disparate places around the globe and I've had the opportunity to travel and work internationally.  The biggest impact though is how my perception of the world, especially of business, has changed.  I am no longer able to engage with recipe-based reductionist approaches to complex business problems, looking back, I don't know how I managed for so long in a traditional consulting context.

In South Africa we've done some pioneering work, and have had great success in using archetypes that emerge from a body of narrative.  One of our more recent projects involved a safety culture audit in a South African coal mine.  They had previously had a very good safety record, but more recently had seen an increase in incidents and "near misses".  We conducted a narrative enquiry, using a combination of naive interviews and anecdote circles.  In addition we used the Future Backwards and archetype extraction.  Several interesting archetypes emerged, with key patterns around:

  • mine leadership being out of touch with current realities and being caught up in the narrative of their past success
  • competent miners taking short cuts and risking their lives for seemingly small reward.  Often believing that nothing bad will happen to them because of their competence

Mine management, engaged with these outputs and put several interventions in place to address these issues.  One of these interventions was the delivery of a constructed narrative, using the archetypes as characters and real anecdotes as a story line, to communicate the importance of safety.  Another was to design a set of signifiers based on the emergent outputs from our enquiry.  A Sensemaker Collector site was set up and we trained local story gatherers on the mine to gather stories on a continuous basis in order for us to monitor the effectiveness of the initiatives.  It is now been a little over a year, and anecdotal evidence suggests a marked improvement in safety on the mine.