May the cynefin be with you

I can still clearly remember my first public speaking event after engaging with Dave Snowden and his complexity, anthropology and narrative approach. It was 11th June 2001 at a tiny venue in France called the Palace de Versailles for a massive Marcus Evans Conference. I distinctly remember as I checked in that Sean Connery was checking out at the other desk.

I was supposed to be going as a delegate but a speaker dropped out and because l had mentioned ‘storytelling’ in my details I was asked if i could give a talk on it. When I returned I immediately emailed Dave to share my thoughts and this is what i said:


Well the Marcus Evans Knowledge Summit went far better than I could ever have hoped. I rewrote and rewrote my presentation to make it more of a story containing you as the guide.

I swear before I went on I heard your voice saying  “may the cynefin be with you”

I covered myths especially creation, with biblical creation of land, sea, plants, creeping things etc leading through to the creation of English Nature.

I then showed a few ecological metaphors and explained your interest in us.

Then I moved into how you used teaching stories to pass on your knowledge and how easy we could then remember complicated theories and ideas.

I then told the story of Birling gap and how we held a camp fire tale to reveal and eventually map the knowledge.

Finally I talked about the ‘Sands of Time’ collection of stories about a local area.

The effect was a bit scary, as I had complete attention throughout (not like the previous German speaker with 120 powerpoints slides about language technology).

My best moments were when the technician came over afterwards and said how he liked the “straightening the river” bit about getting rid of the old people and making similar mistakes. He had been an apprentice and learned everything from this old man… Then an ex-pat living in Hollend asked if the Prussian pub I had mentioned, where the Sands of Time stories were collected, sold Adnams real ales as he remembered drinking pints of it long long ago.

Interest in the subject was huge especially the practical application of getting involved with the local community which I related back to their own businesses as getting closer to the customer.

Anyway to cut a long story short the feedback I got was fantastic, my drink bill was zero, KPM, British Airways, NTL, lecturers and many others I cannot remember quizzed me at every opportunity and we were mentioned in every subsequent presentation.

On my return I reported back to one of our management groups and had a similar incredible effect. They now want me to speak to Council, Directors, Performance Committee and Team Managers to explain the power of storytelling (I still have to call it that because I am only a junior jedi).

I promise I will write it up properly.

I desperately want to concentrate my efforts on this full time and would appreciate any influence you could put on our management to make her realise the sense in this.

Thanks for jump starting my career and sparking my interested in something again.


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