The Spark Blog

An occasional series of thoughts and reflections on the role of narrative in organizational change, branding and knowledge work

networked curiosity: strange-making and sense-making

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Last week we helped a client run an innovation day, part of strengthening an innovation network. Sparknow spoke about the responsibility and rewards for individuals in that network. Here are some notes on that.

In becoming a network of curiosity, what can individuals do, individually and together, to take responsibility for the heightened awareness and collective strange-making and sense-making that are vital for innovation?

A great place to look is to horizon scanning and futures approaches, so here are three suggestions from the horizon scanning world and one that comes from Sparknow’s other work on collaborative spaces:

  • A longer future
  • A deeper future
  • The strange familiar
  • Third spaces

Why put on a futures mindset?

‘The purpose of looking at the futures is to disturb the present’ said Gaston Berger, a pioneer of futures thinking, in around 1964.

Andrew Curry of The Futures Company expands on this:

‘Good horizon scanning is about noting changes and then thinking about it to rehearse the future not predicting it – accepting that you live in an uncertain world but that it changes. “What if?” is a good futures question.’

One: A longer future: three horizons

Paul Saffo writes that you need to look back twice as far as you look forward. A ‘long now’ mindset puts the present in a different light. Deriving from this, the three horizons notation system developed by Bill Sharpe puts the internal futurist on the inflection point between yesterday and tomorrow, helping create a shared future consciouness in the present:

The first horizon is the wave of the past as it arrives in the present.

The third horizon is the vision of the future.

The second horizon is the bumpy ride, the transition between yesterday and tomorrow, looking both ways to understand today.


The client we were working with has quite a structured, engineering, mindset in one way. In this context, as Andrew Curry says:

‘In terms of the Three Horizons, when you look at that through an engineering lens (i.e. through Bill Sharpe’s eye) it’s a way of keeping different ways of thinking about the future in your head all at the same time. H1 – the current legacy infrastructure, which you need to adapt and modify to keep working. H2, the short-to-medium innovations which are already in the pipeline (Bill uses the word ‘Deploy’). H3 the future possibilities that are coming down the line (Explore/Experiment). All of which you also helps to understand the system conflicts that take place when systems transition from one to another’.

Two: A deeper future: Causal Layered Analysis

We are steeped in metaphor and often almost completely unaware of how they shape the way we see the world:

‘When metaphors become buried…and cease to be questioned, there are two inevitable dangers. The first is that there may be important distortion and deficiencies in our vision and analysis because of the structuring effect of the conceptual and logical framework implied by the metaphor… The second danger is that when a metaphor hardens into one of the implicit and unquestioned metaphors of everyday or specialist language, it starts to have an impact not only on the way we see social or market reality but also on the way we structure that reality through our behaviour and the policies we advocate.’ (Richard Bronk)

One way to shift the metaphor is to work down through the layers of the world we are active in and then back up again to see how the world looks and feels different.

Causal layered analysis (CLA) is a method for holding a layered conversation that extends and disrupts conventional assumptions. It allows potential shifts in values and worldviews to be identified.


In brief, a causal layered analysis is a way of enquiring into complex phenomena and generating perspectives on possible futures. You work together down through the four layers, and then back up again:

1 | water cooler (‘litany’): what is the noise that bubbles on the surface?

2 | systemic perspective: what lies underneath the noise?

3 | worldview: what unconscious underlying assumptions are at work?

4 | metaphoric level: what hidden metaphors are at play?

In its full form causal layered analysis moves from the superficial and visible to the subtle and profound, identifying the different layers (and different timescales at which those layers shift), probing deep perspectives and mental structures. Then it explores inflections and disruptions: what shifts at the metaphoric level might ripple back up through the layers to shift worldview, systems, and the day-to-day buzz.

Three: The strange familiar

Synectics is an approach to creativity developed at Arthur D Little in the 1950s.

‘We noticed that we were constantly attempting to make the familiar strange’.

Shifting metaphors can ‘disturb the present’ and, through unsettling, find new patterns. A smaller, more banal way to find hidden patterns is to heighten daily awareness of the slightly odd. Building up a scanning habit means doing the ordinary things every day and adding a twist.

For example, the Situationist idea of the derive is to drift through familiar landscapes and look at them differently:

‘In a dérive one or more persons during a certain period drop their relations, their work and leisure activities, and all their other usual motives for movement and action, and let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there.’


Smartphone technology means that there is a constant derive at hand with apps like the Kennedy app (named for ‘where were you when Kennedy was shot?’) which allow you to snap pictures, write notes, link to location, headline and weather, and build patterns out from the minute noticings and cognitive dissonances of everyday. If it makes you laugh, that’s a good start.

And here’s Andrew Curry’s ’top tip – once every so often (month?) to go out and buy a magazine they’d never normally read to think about the world through a different pair of glasses.’

Four: Third spaces

Third spaces are the spaces in between – corridors, staircases, cafes. In the spaces in between a different kind of conversation can happen, on the boundaries between private and public, formal and informal. Released from the invisible constraints and rituals of formally authorised spaces, third spaces give room for ideas to combine and recombine in new ways.


photo | 2493™

Finding more time in third spaces, or intentionally constructing third spaces, incubates possibility.

Networked curiosity

So then, if each individual in an innovation network, and the whole network together, disturb the present by thinking of long, deep futures, by making the familiar strange and by having more coffee together, the cumulative impact of that network of curiosity can be extraordinary in all kinds of ways.

Add on more structured innovation, creativity and organisational incubation of unlikely ideas as well as likely ideas, and the second horizon suddenly looks like the most interesting place to be.


With thanks to Andrew Curry of The Futures Company and Wendy Schultz of Infinite Futures for the chance to work with them on these issues over nearly a decade now.

Here are a couple of links to related Sparknow research and projects.

The causal layered analysis on banking we ran with Andrew and Wendy at The Futures Company in autumn of 2012.

The checklist and essays we developed with the horizon scanning and futures community and with Defra policymakers. These work well in the context of how to commission, manage and sponsor non traditional or innovative projects and see them through to creating value.

A Sparknow blog on timelines.

A photoessay by  Julie Reynolds of the innovation day Sparknow ran at the Whitechapel Art Gallery with Andrew Curry for Museums, Libraries and Archives of London: woven timelines were central to the day.

Paul Saffo’s article on six rules of effective forecasting.

Bill Sharpe’s book Three Horizons: the patterning of hope. Bill describes three horizons as ‘a prompt for developing ‘future consciousness’ – a rich and multi-faceted awareness of the future potential of the present moment – and explores how to put that awareness to work to create the futures we aspire to’

Links to the long now foundation and the long finance initiative.

A Sparknow blog on changing the metaphor:

James Geary ‘I is other: the secret life of metaphor and how it shapes the way we se the world’

Richard Bronk ‘The Romantic Economist: imagination in economics’

Wendy Schultz on Causal layered analysis

A short handout on synectics.

Dave Snowden’s Cognitive Edge and SenseMaker tool

An article about the Kennedy App

A Sparknow blog on the derive.

A research paper on slow knowledge.

An article on third spaces and a paper on knowledge spaces.

Collaborative encounters – the collaborative research project exploring a pattern language for collaboration.

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