The status of the book

My journey has continued – to create a disciplined basis for human interaction design grounded in our conversations for purpose. It’s a discipline that offers efficiency and effectiveness in enterprise interactions, and justice and meaning in workplace change.

But it is largely written to first draft status, and the contributions of the book include:

· An extended heuristic exploration and integration of the social contexts of purposeful conversation. The three conversational terrains of Create, Monitor and Perform are illustrated on the Requisite Conversation® framework (RCF).

· A systemically developed insight into interactional dynamics in human enterprise. Within the Create terrain, three habitats of conversational cognition, Scope, Generate and Build can be shown to exert a fractal presence throughout enterprise conversations. Again, a heuristic frame, the Knowledge Development Pathway® (KDP) is used to support the exegesis of these insights.

· A perspectival approach that mines and lays out the fractal richness of the conversational terrains and habitats, their ecosystems of cognition and artefacts.

· Syntheses and aggregations of theoretical literature from a wide array of fields of study through the lens of conversational cognition.

· An attempt at the foundations for a new discipline – “Conversation Design”.

It has been really interesting to explore conversation as a naturally occurring form of complex adaptive system, and yet combine that with a view that humans are not just coevolving actors on an indifferent fitness landscape. I take the view that while we are not the heroic creative individuals painted by post-enlightenment triumphalism, we nevertheless are purposeful, and that we can align ourselves in purposeful enterprises. The question then, if we are people who make our world through speaking, what are the structures that underlie such activity, and how can we become self-conscious and skilled practitioners of that art?

For me, some of the clues lie in the version of the Christmas story told by John – that the “Word became flesh and dwelt among us”. There is some mystery, but also a great deal of pragmatic reality that we echo in our own incarnation of enterprises. For better and for worse, our words become flesh and persist among us. We had better take heed to what makes a wise word.

If you are interested/still awake, the contents of the book are along these lines:

Chapter 1

I bring to the surface some features of our experience of talk that demonstrate the possibility and practicality of a conversational framework.

Chapter 2

For the purposes of this chapter, conversation remains “black boxed”, while we attend to the conceptual “planks” of deep architectures, recursion and the behaviours of complex adaptive systems.

Chapter 3

I move from working “ON” the conversation framework to “IN” the framework. What are the forces that shape the “system and structure of language for coordinating purposeful human enterprise”? There are three main ones: time, the production/presence of artefacts, and the role of our personal involvement.

Chapter 4

Chapter 4 opens the “black box” and looks at the high level features of conversation in human enterprise. I introduce the recursive levels of “zoom” we apply throughout the book – the terrains, habitats and settings of conversation. I introduce the 3 major terrains and their top level distinctives, and discuss the necessarily fuzzy boundaries that exist between our purposeful conversations and our everyday living.

Chapter 5

In chapters 5, 6 and 7, I go into detail about each of the conversational terrains, starting with the Create Terrain. This requires, in turn, an exploration of

a) the major Habitats of our conversational cognition – the places we are accustomed to and have become skilled in traversing, laying down social and neural pathways,

b) the fractal Settings, where each of the main cognitive patterns covered in a) is echoed recursively within each of the habitats.

Chapter 6

I cover the Monitor terrain – the social and historically conditioned substrate of conversation that is formed by our Create conversations, and becomes in turn the fabric for our conversations for valuing, learning, awareness, and embodiment.

Chapter 7

The Perform Terrain is where our Creative and evaluative conversations are enacted in the world to accomplish our purposes – and sometimes more: always more than we could foresee, and sometimes sequelae that are untoward at best…

Chapter 8

So what? The Requisite Conversations framework is somewhat of a platform technology, so I can only provide a few glimpses of some of the more prominent applications that have been envisaged or explored using this enabling heuristic.

There are also a heap of shovel ready training units and applications that have fallen out along the way….

Please let me know if that interests you….


Want to talk?

David Jones

Changing the ways people talk to get work done.

New work? New conversation! Change Conversation.

Change Conversation
M: +61 (0)4 29 39 49 84-
P: +612 4369 8738
F: +612 4369 8738


The Role of IT as Conversation Designers

The Role of IT as Conversation Designers

If you are in an executive role then understanding what IT does, what it can do, and where it is going, is a core part of your job. IT is not the business of the IT department. It is the business of the business. And that reality is now becoming more foundational than we have previously imagined. Looking at a “bricks and mortar” retail chain that has not come to grips with the impact of social media on the purchasing behaviours of their market is just one tragic glimpse of the scale of change.

Social media are just part of the challenge. More generally, the lines are getting blurry between people and machines, and between them and the digital stream that flows between, and that both now rely upon. And in that mix, everything has a voice. Everything speaks[i] – the human stakeholders, the market, the internet of things, and even the (big) data itself. Now IT is being asked to be the facilitator of the dialogs, the provider of new channels for talk, the interpreter of the conversations, and ultimately the speaker who determines the future.

“…an organization’s Information Technology (IT) Department and Chief Information Officer (CIO) not only play a vital role in the organization’s overall operation, but in devising the organization’s communication dynamics and knowledge sharing culture. No longer are IT professionals only to be concerned with maintaining an organization’s technical infrastructure. With the current shift to a knowledge sharing, collaborative work environment, they must focus on establishing social networks that generate knowledge, promote learning and enable innovative decisions be implemented.”[ii]

But the stakes are ever higher and the learning curve relentlessly steep. When IT introduced platforms that enabled e-mail exchanges, departments might still have been called "EDP" and the "IT guy" was a middle management techo. No one thought to consult "him" (as it invariably was) about how to use the new capability well – nor would he have known how to answer! People used email indiscriminately for transactional stuff like arranging meetings (and usually succeeded), and for complex and fuzzy conversation spaces, with some catastrophic confusion to follow. And not so long ago,

“A study carried out among 28 companies having implemented an ERP shows that in only 24 % of cases did the strategy focus on the human dimensions and change, while in 36% of cases, the process retained was primarily technological.” [iii]

Not so long ago. But not acceptable now. No longer is a rift between “technology” and “human dimensions and change” desirable, permissible, or sustainable`. In fact, the rift is becoming impossible – and indiscernible.

“What is transpiring is momentous, nothing less than the planet wiring itself a new nervous system. If your organization is not linked into this nervous system, you will be hard pressed to participate in the planet’s future. To be more specific, amidst the texting and Twittering and Facebooking of a generation of digital natives, the fundamentals of next-generation communication and collaboration are being worked out.”[iv]

The shift now is advanced and irreversible – IT has moved from project managers of technology insertions to facilitators of the very stuff of organisations – the conversations of business.

“As is easily observed, in most cases employees are knowledge workers. Because of this, the role of the CIO and the IT Department are strategic. While it is important that the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) promotes an organizational culture that values knowledge and learning, and the Human Resource Management (HRM) Director develops leaders that enable knowledge sharing and creative thinking, the CIO must envision and implement a human-centric information systems infrastructure that can be the technical backbone for the organization’s communication and knowledge generation avenues.”[v]

In many ways, IT has been being groomed for that role for a long time. Working in digital media, of all the engineering disciplines, takes one closest to playing with language, as was made obvious by Winograd and Flores in "Understanding Computers and Cognition"[vi] twenty five years ago. I don’t think Agile can do as much as its evangelists claim – I’ve seen what it takes to build a naval destroyer. But nevertheless, lightweight software development and project management has paved a new path in human-centric IT. Arthritic, ponderous, exhaustive progress by documentation is replaced by fast conversational iterations where the fundamental technology is talk, not paper. Unsurprisingly, the lessons from Agile are steadily making inroads into other managerial contexts. So IT is no stranger to the insights that can be drawn from language – indeed, IT seems inexorably drawn to insights from language (see, for example, the works of Paul Pangaro, Terry Winograd, and Nicholas Negroponte).

While IT is on the road, and making significant progress along it, the new demands are a new order of magnitude in challenge. IT is being asked to go where no enterprise function has gone before. They are being asked to work with the absolute DNA of human cooperative endeavour – our conversations – the way we talk together to get work done. What will CIO’s and their strategic collaborators in HR and Operations need to reach for in order to speak usefully in this space. Or will they be as flatfooted as the 1990’s techo being asked how to use email?

“One of the dangers with the enormous advances made in technology is to confuse the transmission of information with effective communication. Technological advances enable us to have ready access to a huge diversity of complex information. But this is not communication. When humans coordinate their activities for the mutual accomplishment of tasks, communication has occurred. Technology can facilitate this occurring, and indeed technology can provide the opportunities for conversations to occur more readily. But it is not the technology itself that coordinates human action – it is the human use of the technology, and this occurs through conversation. Human interaction, via the medium of conversation, is necessary for the coordination of action”[vii]

A solution will need to have a significant set of features to have the required flexibility and scope for these challenges:

• It will need to scale across all conversation systems – from the sole worker’s “conversation within their own head” (eg a solo plant operator, a roaming broker, or a remote maintainer), through team based conversations (eg care delivery “microsystems” in clinics and hospitals), business functions, to product development and planning systems. (At first glance this seems a big ask, but it is in fact what we have had delivered by process based improvement models such as TQM and Lean).

• It will need to encompass the features of a complex adaptive system. Because it is trying to address human interactions while retaining their ingenuity and emergence, the approach will have to have the “requisite variety” (Ashby’s Law) for that scope[viii]. Only a complex adaptive system has those properties.

• It will need to keep pace with the future that is yet to come. If those who study the dynamics of the future such as the Kondratieff cycles are correct, we are barely beginning the harvest of the possibilities created by the IT “great surge”[ix]. What kind of capability can be a platform technology for the pending phase change?

It’s hard to speak of benefits when confronted with necessity. When an evolutionary corner is turned because the old environment is uninhabitable and when a new species emerges to thrive in the new habitat, we don’t think of "benefits". But we are usually admiring of the adaptation. A capacity to move with this new generation of IT challenges is not an optional extra that some businesses will choose because of the “benefits”. It is the necessary path that surviving businesses will have walked to the new environment.

And stunningly, the answer is not far from us. It lies in mastering conversations themselves:

“As a distinct social activity, management is so heavily rooted in the use of language that one may wonder why it has taken so long for scholars to recognise it. … Issuing commands and directions,

engaging in conversations, influencing others, negotiating, discussing and debating, strategizing, representing the organization to stakeholders, all of these activities involve the use of language par excellence. Yet it is only in the last ten years at most that management and organizational

scholarship has taken language seriously.[x]

The reason is that the closeness of language to our work, its everyday nature, and its growing focus in management studies, do not make it any easier to work with. They do mean a new capability must be learnt. But the capacity for forming new knowledge along pathways that are made up of custom-designed conversational processes – processes that weave in digital tools, social media or lumps of equipment – is now possible. The Knowledge Development Pathway characterises the requisite set of conversations for humans to cooperate in pursuit of purpose. Based in the core capacity of humans to handle complexity in language – as they always have – the KDP forms a fractal, complex adaptive system , a scaffolding for the Requisite conversations.

“It is possible for an organization to learn and grow, but only if it creates conditions

that help generate new language. Using new language, an organization may create new paths to productivity, and regenerate itself. The conversations necessary for generating new language and new opportunities do not come naturally.”[xi]

They do not come naturally. But they can be built.

David Jones

Changing the ways people talk to get work done.

New work? New conversation! Change Conversation.

Change Conversation

10 Step Problem Solving

My son recently bought to my attention a problem solving methos called the “10 Step method to Problem solving”.

It went like this:

10 step problem solving model

1. Elect a leader

2. Identify the problem

3. Identify resources

4. Brainstorm ideas

5. Evaluate ideas

6. Pick an idea

7. Develop a plan

8. Implement the plan

9. Review the Plan (and if necessary return to step 4)

10. Celebrate Success

My immediate response to him was the old red rag – brainstorming (Step 4). As I shot back: “I have a problem with this step: “Brainstorm ideas”. Brainstorming as a method for creative generation has been empirically discredited since 1959”.

Nevertheless, I’m a sucker for looking up models, so googled “10 step problem solving model”.

This is really interesting! Look at the variation we get in “10 Step Models” – each one of which claims to be “proven”, to “guarantee results if applied consistently”, to be “patent pending”, or to “be based on the best empirical research”.

· There is no agreement on phasing.

· One of the models pushed the boundaries – Does having a Step 0 really mean it’s an 11 step model – or that the other models which start with “find the problem” are really only 9 steps?

· Being a disciple of Miller’s “Magical number seven, plus or minus a few”, I tend to think 10 step models are chosen more for their impressive suite of stages than for maping onto the basics of efficient human cognition in problem solving.

This one took the prize – I’m a sucker for models, but even more so visual ones!


We can have (an obtuse sort of) fun with this. But there is an underlying problem that is extremely serious, which must have costs in industry and human enterprise that are mind-numbingly huge. And it is simply this – that despite the fact that problem solving is so basic to human society that some say it actually is the root definition of what it means to be/have a culture (Edgar Schein), WE DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO!

Dejours on work

A predisposition to abstraction is one of the great legacies of the era of technical rationalism. In fact many cannot find their way out of it. Ask them to tell you about love and they will want a definition that starts with “What is love?”

They have got used to a world in which the way we talk about work is seen as the equivalent of doing it. ISO Standard descriptions of work are seen as sufficient to describe work. If you do the manual you are blameless…

Abstraction is a wonderful gift of the mind and a necessary tool in stepping up to the challenge of living well. But it gets misapplied, and we end up defining things that are inherently human as though there is no human present.

But “… those disciplines that operate with thin definitions of work, ignoring the subjective element, end up doing great injustice to the subjective demands of workers, notably by forcing reality to conform to the abstraction….” Deranty, What is Work 2009 p.82

This is what the work of Christophe Dejours sets out to redress. And for Just Knowledge, this is a key theme. How do we have conversations – the core technology of knowledge work – that are true to who we are as humans and aligned to the way our brains really work?

“Dejours manages to demonstrate that all work, including the most mechanical, is never reducible to poiesis or techne, that is, to an action are obeying pure instrumental rules, but always constitutes also a form of praxis, insofar as it involves the whole ethical character of the individual, relies on coordination and cooperation, and necessitates fundamental ethical norms, like trust and the symmetrical exchange of justifiable arguments (1998: 180)” Deranty 2009 p.84

1995 revisited

My computer is sprinkled with old reflections which I unearth when two conditions are fulfilled

a) I’m reflecting on a new problem (which happens almost daily)

b) I remember to look and see if I have ever thought about it before (which happens almost never)

Here’s an example of what comes up when the stars align…. I wrote it when I was working on a project to develop performance measures for Australian Technological development – the research arm of the then CRA, in about 1995.

The refelction is structured using a “What; So What; Now What” heuristic


Imagine a system: “A mess …. that enough people agree is a system”

Through time, the ecology of the system changes – the outputs of the system’s activity alter its own state, and that of its host context. Different things matter at a subsequent point in time than mattered before. (If we are paying enough attention, the sequence of different things might actually correspond to the accomplishment of some purpose in the world!)

Imagine that this is the graphic device we use to represent our trajectory through time:

We might even discern patterns to this progression that interest us, and which we dignify with the notion of “phases”

We could then see our system as it appeared in each of these phases:

So What?

Now we pause for a moment and go back to our system – our conventionally structured mess! When we look closer, we find it has a feature we had not noticed before. Whether we like it or not, intend it or not, it appears to behave purposefully.[1] All the messy threads have a way of stabilising on a certain set of outcomes:

Usually at this point, we are struck by an oddity: Although we want the system to behave differently through time so that it is effective in pursuing its goals, it seems to have a remarkable amount of stability in this purposefulness – irrespective of what we say, how we cajole or inspire. That purposefulness appears to correlate directly with the behaviours that are most consistently and fundamentally rewarded – whether they are what we “really want” at the time or not:

Now What?

My belief is that the system should in fact be performing in fundamentally different ways in each of the phases, and that it should be possible to characterise the nature of those phases and discover metrics which drive congruent behaviours:

We could proceed by answering these questions:

• What is our purpose in this phase, and how does it contribute to the overall purpose of the system?

• What are the appropriate behaviours and thinking styles that will expedite this phase?

• What are the core competencies that characterise and enable this phase?

• How should we give feedback to the system in a way that nurtures those competencies in that phase?

• How do we draw attention to the right things – the things that matter?

I think that this is a more creative exercise at first than data gathering. I think we need to reflect on the ways in which feedback occurs.

• What are the “valuing” mechanisms people use?

• What creates openness to a “measure”? Or to “incentives.”

• Can we nurture new valuing mechanisms?

• Can we make the current valuing mechanism form a background, and add a differential layer?



Why “just” knowledge?

“There are other good candidates for the purpose of design. Another good candidate is justice. We design for the purpose of Justice and the justice we deliver is not retributory (punishing evil) it is distributive justice – to bring the benefits of our clear thinking and the work of our companies to a wider audience so that all people can participate.”

Richard Buchanan keynote at 2011 IxDA