Interview with Dave Snowden

Dave Snowden is known for his ideas, research, and insights on knowledge management.

We had the opportunity to interview Dave, and explore his views on role of a leader, Cynefin framework for decision-making, and sense-making for situational awareness.

Q1. What is the role of a leader when undergoing organizational change?

Dave: To set a general sense of direction – but not specific goals. I normally work on creating boundaries using negative stories (ideally with an ironic twist and a degree of self-deprecation) about where we don’t want to be. That allows a degree of freedom in allowing change to emerge. Starting journey is generally better than setting goals. Ideally you should never be leading a change initiative, but be constantly involved in small changes. Our More like these, fewer like those approach to change using SenseMaker® is important here as you are dealing with changes to how things are (more sustainable) rather than setting idealistic goals.

Q2. What Agile has to offer to the smaller companies?

Dave: Too open a question, Agility is a basic need for all companies. If by Agile you mean Scrum then it has application to areas with discrete work units with some ambiguity – which can be resolved in a short timescale. If you mean techniques such as XP then the application is obvious. If you mean Agile hype then its a waste of time.

Q3. Please explain key characteristics of Feedback. Should it be descriptive or evaluative?

Dave: Depends on the context, in general for change programmes feedback is best if descriptive, fragmented and real time.

Q4. How Cynefin Framework aids decision-making?

Dave: By allowing people to use different tools and methods in different contexts – avoiding the one size fits all approach of all management fads (including Agile). It also creates an acceptable language of difference – if it is complex then contradictory but coherent hypotheses can be explored without loss of face.

Q5. How does Sense-making creates situational awareness?

Dave: Sense-making has a lot of value in assessing situations and coming up with ideas – I have a lot of respect for Weick et al. Naturalising sense-making on the other hand focuses in things like mapping and then varying constraints followed by amplification or dampening of emergent patterns. We avoid any situation in which situational assessment takes place in the context of a dispute over action.

Q6. Have you ever experienced failure at work? How did you overcome it?

Dave: Yes, and I either (i) ignore it living with the consequences (ii) muddle through until I can see what to do (iii) fight or (iv) apologise.

Q7. What prevents an organisation to adapt to change? How to address those challenges?

Dave: It’s the sort of question that can’t really be answered without context. But in simple terms you need to optimise the granularity of information and organizational units and focus on how things connect not what they are. That allows for resilience, Too  formal a structure, too much focus on individual change, too many goals and idealistic targets all prevent it.

Q8. Where do you see the community heading?

Dave: If you mean Agile then the trend is to increasing commodification, its coming to the end of its natural life span.  SAFe is to Agile what Six Sigma was to BPR, the end of utility through excess. If you mean Agility; well we are just starting.


David John Snowden, popularly known as Dave Snowden, is a Management Consultant and Researcher in the field knowledge management. He is well-known for the development of the Cynefin Framework. He is Founder and Chief Scientific Officer of Cognitive Edge, a Management Consulting firm specialising in complexity and sense-making. Dave is a popular and passionate keynote speaker on a range of subjects, and is well known for his pragmatic cynicism and iconoclastic style.



Interview with Geoff Watts

We are glad to present our recent conversation with Geoff Watts on Leading the Change. Geoff is the author of one of the popular coaching books The Coach’s Casebook and the Agile book Scrum Mastery.

In the interview we discussed about need of organisational change, critical aspect of Leading the change, and what should remain stable when so much is changing at work. Let’s read;

Q1. Please share your view on when organizational change/transformation is needed?

Geoff: For me the word transformation is becoming irrelevant. Conditions are not static enough to allow the time for a transformation. Organisational structure and culture needs to be more fluid. The challenge now is to be able to constantly flex the culture and structure of the organisation to meet the changing environmental conditions while remaining coherent. Any organisation that think they have completed their transformation and achieved their end state is either fooling themselves or hasn’t read the signs.

Q2. What is the most critical aspect of Leading the change?

Geoff: Without wishing to be too cliche, I would look at the Ghandi quote of “Be the change you wish to see in the world”. The behaviours of the leaders are the biggest influences on the culture of their organisations. Coherence between the messages they send out and their actions is critical. .

Q3. As a leader, when do we set up a stage for failure when undergoing change?

Geoff: The world of work that many leaders find themselves in requires them to build organisations that are designed to be resilient rather than robust. Avoiding change is impossible now so putting your energy in to efforts to protect against inevitable change is wasted. This inevitable change can lead to a feeling of failure because our setup, our processes are no longer valid for the new conditions. Also, we can look at our inability to predict the future as a sort of failure. But this is silly. Failure isn’t about an inability to predict but rather an inability to react constructively or quickly enough. Failure is an inability to experiment or an inability to embrace learning. And leaders can help encourage this by demonstrating this themselves. Admit when they don’t know the answer, take risks by running experiments and acknowledge (perhaps even celebrate) when things don’t turn out the way they hoped.

Q4. When so much is changing, what should we expect to remain stable?

Geoff: It is very helpful to keep the team composition stable so that they can learn together, develop together as it takes time and energy to become self-organising and high-performing. A stable vision is also very helpful so long as it is one that allows the solution to emerge through iterative and incremental development. Values and principles are also more likely to remain stable while practices will change. Keeping a sense of who we are and what we stand for is important.

Q5. How to know when you are an effective leader? Share your thought on being versatile in leadership style.

Geoff: At Gore, the official line was that everyone is a leader when they have followers. If people stop following you then you are no longer a leader.

I help leaders and leadership teams follow a journey towards ORGANIC agility which has a number of phases associated with the maturity of the team’s ability to self-manage. During this journey, leaders need to adapt their leadership style to the circumstances, to the culture they are looking to create and what their followers/team both want and need from them at that point in time. This will be challenging for the leader and the people they are leading in different ways.

Q6. What do you wish for the Agile Community five years down the line?

Geoff: I wish for greater diversity while at the same time greater cohesion. At the moment there are many different ways to try and help organisations realise the benefits of agility throughout the company of splicing the values and principles of agility into the DNA of the organisation if you like. For example Scrum at Scale, SAFe, LeSS and ORGANIC agility etc.

I think of these as multiple parallel experiments. I believe we are starting to see the results of these experiments and so it is time to dampen some of the ones that aren’t working and amplify the ones that are. This will provide greater overall cohesion and then give room for more experiments on the details.


Geoff Watts is the founder of Inspect & Adapt Ltd and one of the most experienced and respected Scrum coaches in the world. He helps individuals create great teams by developing a culture of reflection, empowerment and engagement. An inspirational speaker at international conferences, he is at the cutting edge of the developments in the agile world. He is also passionate about promoting servant-leadership through his coaching practice.

He is a member of the International Coach Federation, National Council of Psychotherapists & the Association of Business Psychologists.