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The Melbourne Emergence Special Public Meetup

Photo of
Hosted By
Tony S. and 2 others


Special Public Meetup

Dave Snowden

Doing More with Less, the Pragmatic Lessons of Complexity Theory


Melbourne Emergence Meetup and Kororoit Institute ( jointly with RMIT University Centre for Business Education Research ( are happy to host an open meeting in Melbourne with Dave Snowden, Founder and Chief Scientist of Cognitive Edge ( He will be discussing some of his ideas on governance, monitoring, measurement and the like; and looking at how complexity can make a difference to engagement and empowering communities to speak in their own voice. That would include new approaches to evidence based policy under conditions of uncertainty.


We are probably at a turning point in the take up of complex adaptive systems theory in both Government and Industry and as in any turning point there is both threat and opportunity. The threats range from those simply using complexity as a bright new wrapper for older tools and techniques to the more respectable failure to realise that human complex systems are different in both nature and intervention. This seminar will argue that complexity needs to be seen as a new approach, not a sub-set of general systems theory and that we need to integrate aspects of cognitive science and the biological end of anthropology into a new body of theory and practice.

Snowden's paper in the HBR on complexity in the context of leadership, written with Mary Boone has won awards from the Academy of Management for its practical nature, and more recently as one of the 50 most cited papers in its class. This lecture will update that paper with additional material on managing both complexity and using chaos to improve decision making and situational assessment. This will be illustrated by a range of projects using micro-narrative techniques (a quantitative method for distributed ethnography and abductive research). These include:

Building human sensor networks across large urban populations in Latin America and the Middle East to understanding underlying patterns of motivation and response and to enable weak signal detection. Development projects in Africa, including using complexity techniques to understand and empower victims of genital mutilation and rape to interpret their own stories. Measuring resilience in organisations and populations and building loosely coupled nodal networks in advance of need. Dave Snowden was one of the founders of Melbourne Emergence Meetup in November 2004. The Meetup group welcomes him to its regular monthly meeting. While Director of IBM’s Institution for Knowledge Management in the early 2000’s he established the Cynefin Centre for Organisational Complexity in Wales, which was spun out when Dave left IBM in 2004 to found his current company, Cognitive Edge. His work is international in nature and covers government and industry looking at complex issues relating to strategy, organisational decision making and decision making. He has pioneered a science based approach to organisations drawing on anthropology, neuroscience and complex adaptive systems theory. Dave is a popular and passionate keynote speaker on a range of subjects, and is well known for his pragmatic cynicism and iconoclastic style. It has been a long time since he has been available to contribute to Melbourne Emergence, so we are very happy to welcome him back. Melbourne Emergence Meetup is especially thankful to Profs. Sandra Jones, Roger Hadgraft, and the RMIT University Centre for Business Education Research for facilitating this event.

After the talk join us next door at Oxford Scholars Hotel for dinner/drinks.

445 Swanston Street, Melbourne (opposite northbound tram stop) · Melbourne