CALMalpha – the second request

CALMalpha was meant to be a mash-up between the Lean, Agile and Cynefin / Complexity Theory practitioners.

The outcome of the unconference wasn’t really stated. When you understand that a complex domain is one in which the cause of an outcome can’t be perceived except in retrospect, this might make more sense. The only thing we were trying to do was see if there was a way of using complexity theory to help inform our practices, and if there were some practices from Agile and Lean that complexity theorists might find interesting – a mash-up!

There’s one problem with this.

Currently, the best-known leadership of Complexity Theory revolves around the company Cognitive Edge. These guys have some amazing methods for making sense of domains, spotting complex problems and providing data which calls out “weak signals” that might otherwise be lost. I paid good money and took time off work for the course last year, and it was worth every penny. For the non-initiated and tl;dr, imagine five new types of retrospective, a method for reducing planning meetings to five minutes, and six different ways of making the output from them heard, and you’ll get a vague idea of the impact and scope. Oh, and they’ve got software for running the retro across countries.


I can’t currently use the methods they taught me, not as a professional coach. The methods are open-sourced, but released under a non-commercial, non-derivative Creative Commons license.

Cognitive Edge, your Wiki says (emphasis mine):

The Cognitive Edge wiki exists to provide a collaborative space for accredited members of the Cognitive Edge Network. All accredited practitioners should feel welcome to contribute to the ideas and concepts in these pages.

The licence prevents me from using your methods as a professional coach:

You may not use this work for commercial purposes.

The licence also prevents non-accredited people, which is most of our communities and a lot of CALMalpha attendees, from creating their own ideas:

You may not alter, transform, or build upon this work.

While I might be able to build on your work, I’m unwilling to do so as long as my efforts fall under this licence. I also can’t pass on anything to the people I work with for their contribution.

Can you see how this doesn’t mesh with the idea of a “mash-up”, and goes completely against your ideas around multiplying perspectives?

So here’s my request.

Cognitive Edge, please, please open your licence up for commercial and derivative work.

The stuff you do is amazing. If you were working solely for the money, you wouldn’t have come up with these ideas. I can only assume that you, like us, are trying to make the world a better place. We will continue to attribute the methods to you and talk about how amazing they are. Those of us who’ve seen it will continue to point people towards your SenseMaker software (which is ground-breaking, world-changing, worth paying for the 1-day demo, and deserves the more rigorous patent applied to it – I look forward to the day when it’s a bit cheaper!)

As it stands, we can’t do anything useful with your methods. Worse, because you’re working in a space full of narratives and I’m working in a space full of very similar examples, I have to be very careful that my work – released on my blog under CC, non-commercial, non-derivative – is actually based on other sources (mostly Dan North and Chris Matts) and not on yours.

Please. Be generous. Reach out to your contributors, ask them, and release what you can.

Sometimes it’s worth doing something you can’t go back from.

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12 Responses to CALMalpha – the second request

  1. Dave Snowden says:

    We had a lot of abuse of open source methods (and still do) with people grabbing the stuff and rebadging it without proper acknowledgement which is why we put in the non-commercial use CC license. In practice anyone who has asked has been granted a commercial use for blogs or workshops without any charge or obstacle.

    We are about to make some major changes – we need to invest more in the methods given that practitioners have not really used the wiki and we are looking to recognise more committed people such as yourselves. So there will shortly be a commercial/non-commercial use option for network members.

    With Version 3.0 of the software we have already opened it up to developers and will organise more free training soon – that will allow people to use the software with a lot of freedom, although yes we will take a license fee. Those fees will also change shortly as we now have automatic configuration. So most of things you ask for are coming, including a requirements capture/project management specific version of SenseMaker®.

    IN the mean time, if you need something just ask!

  2. Dave Snowden says:

    Incidentally, in the same spirt, why not open up your blog to unmoderated postings?

    (sorry could not resist …)

  3. liz says:

    Hi Dave,

    Thanks for letting me know that the changes are in the wings.

    Creative Commons licences are *all* attribution, so even one with commercial and derivative possibilities would still require acknowledgement. I have no problem with this aspect of the licence. Your response doesn’t explain the terms you’ve chosen.

    As I said, letting anyone who asks / just accredited network users have that permission isn’t going to scale. I won’t contribute as long as that licence is in place, especially given the similarities of the methods with existing ones.

    Fantastic news about SenseMaker, though. That really is a breakthrough and gives me hope for humanity. Thank you.

    Re moderation: I haven’t worked out how to persuade Askimet to allow unmoderated posts (I need to upgrade WordPress I think), or I would (there’s only one post I didn’t approve, where someone asked me to anonymise them more than I had!) My blog is being rehosted soon and I’ll be tweaking the settings then. Temporary and technical rather than moral limitation 😛 Anyone who has been approved once is automatically approved again, so you should no longer be moderated.

  4. Dave Snowden says:

    The issue on methods is how do you pay for the investment to document then, keep them up to date, build cases etc. I was naive when we started – I thought people using them would update the wiki but they didn’t. If they made any variation they republished the method with token acknolwedgement at best. At the moment we are thinking about a split between the commercial and non-commercial licenses but if you have any other ideas they would be welcome.

  5. Chris Matts says:


    You have described the heart of the matter beautifully. I wish I had your gift.


  6. Paul Beckford says:

    It’s nice to see you guys working it out. Intellectual property and managing the integrity of your brand are tricky topics. Just to back up what Dave is saying here, I’ve come across this guy:

    Who is arguably misrepresenting Daves work whilst giving him no right to reply (Dave is banned on his blog). How best to deal with that?

    It’s seems a shame that you guys couldn’t have had this conversation in private, but I guess this is the nature of the internet 🙂 Anyway thanks for your efforts to come to some sensible arrangement, I’m sure we’ll all benefit in time.


  7. Dave Snowden says:

    I’ve no problem with having the conversation in public, especially if it produces some good ideas. The Creative Commons license is a real issue and any creativity would be appreciated. As I said out current plans are to create two communities, one of whom can use the methods and one of whom can commercialise and create derivatives. The latter group would involve some payment to cover the cost of managing those methods and developing them given that our five year attempt to engage people in the wiki has not worked, the opposite in fact.

    Incidentally, some license is important. Otherwise someone can develop a variant and then patent or otherwise protect that variant to prevent development in the field. So to be cautious we start with a more restrictive form then relax …..

    Equally if some of those methods are capable of amendment and modification within the AGILE community, linking, connecting and fusing approaches, then if people are committed to that I am sure we would quickly agree to a release to that community. I’ve just had enough of parasites who show no prospect of developing into symbiotes.

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  9. liz says:

    Dave, I want to experiment and help my team produce a process by taking a cut-down version of the archetypes method (just the actions), map actions on a single triad (bad, good, wanted at the top) and then give them a couple of ribbons to work out what they want to commit to doing and what they will tolerate.

    If it worked, I’d then like to blog about it. Unfortunately my blog is just CC, not CC-nd-nc, so if I did that, anyone who read it would then be free to derive and do whatever they wanted too. Ditto anything you release to the Agile community, who will invite others to work with and around it. You’d find us all building off of community work, from the people you’ve licensed, instead of off of yours.

    Honestly, if people are being parasites and not attributing, they’re going to carry on doing that anyway.

    Lastly, you can’t start with a restrictive form then relax later if you’re going to get community contributions. You’d have to check with every contributor (as I suggested in the last part of the post). Either way is a commitment.

  10. Dave Snowden says:

    Happy to remove any obstacles to that intent and grant a license that would also allow other people to pick up on what you did. The only restriction would relate to the patent on the use of triads and other shapes. Happy to license that for workshop methods with some caveats, our main concern is software were we have a major investment (but as I said we are opening up the development environment for that so you would be able to use that framework in a few months time.

    Might be best to talk – happy to do that

  11. liz says:

    I actually have no problem with the SenseMaker patent – I suspect that Chris hasn’t seen it in action. For me, it clearly falls under “stuff you should patent because otherwise big companies do it and get all the money”. Without having seen it, though, I can see that it would be hard to differentiate the triads from the other methods you promote. I’ll chat to him when we next catch up.

    Sensemaker is pretty amazing stuff, and you and your team deserve whatever you get from it. Thank you for your ongoing work in making it more accessible. I’m very much looking forward to seeing what you produce in a few months!

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