Decision making in complex environments

Every now and again I come across something that captivates me and leaves me wanting to know more...

I was first introduced to Complexity Theory and the work of Professor Dave Snowden by Al Smith at when we were delivering a seminar together in South Africa. At the time I remember that Al had a group of coaches wrestling with the conept and I was definitley one of them.

Having said that it was something that interested me and although I didn't totally get it I knew that it was something I needed to know more about. I made a mental note to learn more.

I was researching creativity and decison making on You Tube recently and discovered this seminar delivered by Professor Snowden thinking that I would see what it was about and take away a couple of nuggets. 70 odd minutes later and I was still rewinding the video so that I could take down the latest nugget that he had just uttered.

I highly recommend watching this talk if you have the time but if you haven't got and hour and a half to spare I have summarised the talk by sharing my field notes interspersed with some of the big takeaways underneath this video.


"Humans are basically pattern based intelligences. Not information processing machines".

"We basically evolved to make decisions very quickly based on partial data. Using half remembered memories of our own. And the vicarious memories of other people which we hear through stories or what are called 'micro narratives'".

We make sense of the world by being exposed to situations repeatedly and recognising the patterns. Without exposure to these scenarios enough times we do not have the opportunity become skilled at the pattern recognition.

Does this mean that players who can 'read the game' are actually players who have a lot of exposure to similar scenarios and can recognise patterns quickly?

If this is the case then perhaps we need to have talent systems which are all about scenario exposure so that players can begin to recognise patterns and develop solutions to what they recognise.

Adaptation is a linear evolution in biology. It can take a long time but it is shorter than we think

Epigenetics is showing this

"If you give bright mice, dumb mice to bring up, the children of the dumb mice are bright!"

Culture changes chemicals which activate or deactivate DNA. Within 1 or 2 generations, culture can change biology!

Significant changes can be 'exaptive' instead of 'adaptive'.

'Exaptive change' is when a particular set of characteristics or behaviours are repurposed due to a change in the ecological environment.

"The cerebellum in apes evolved fine motor skills to enable the ape to pick seeds from within seed pods. This fine motor skill ability then exapted to become speech and grammar".

We all want to develop players or athletes that can 'adapt' to situations or circumstances but how can we encourage more 'exaptations' where players explore totally novel ways of overcoming a challenge. Do our current development environements encourage this or are we focussed on 'the basics' or 'the fundamentals' which means that we discourage genuine creativity.

Most innovation happens at the elite level and then trickles down to the lower levels once it becomes 'acceptable' (think of Sonny-Bill Williams , one hand off load in Rugby or Kevin Pietersen's 'flamingo shot' in cricket.

How many of those techniques would have come from one of our talent environments?

"If you use high abstract, symbolic scenarios things will associate in completely novel ways. If you use concrete problem solving scenarios you will get good solutions with known capability against existing problems but you won't get completely novel ones!"

Are we sacrificing the emergence of completely novel solutions that might give us the point of difference in favour of functional solutions that achieve a certain level of competence but won't be world class?