Daniel S.  Appleton
Daniel S. Appleton Consultant, DACOM Read Author Bio || Read All Articles by Daniel S. Appleton

This is an excerpt from The McCafferty Chronicles.  The McCafferty Chronicles relate a series of discussions led by Michael M. McCafferty, Chief Transformation Officer, on the general topic of enterprise transformation.  These discussions range widely over the topic and involve many different folks of many different interests and skills, depending on the subject.

One of McCafferty's major discussion topics is
The Cognitive Enterprise.  It is in this context that Joe Carlin, the Chief Knowledge Officer, introduces the idea of the cognodigm.  The group expands Joe's idea to mesh complementary concepts including cognitive maps, cognitive hierarchies, and cognition, all of which are critical elements of the cognitive enterprise.

Michael McCafferty, executive in charge of enterprise transformation, sipped his coffee and waited for his group to settle down.  In addition to his usual team, there were data architects, knowledge engineers, information architects, AI folks, and toilers from the 'knowledge garden' in the room.  McCafferty knew that there would be rough going in this tower of babble.  But, success here was essential in order to make progress on many other fronts.  Taking a deep breath, he began by recalling one of the critical concepts introduced in an earlier session.

"If you remember, in our discussion of business models and business rules, we grappled with the idea that the sum of all business rules in an enterprise is its cognitive map.  We agreed that enterprise cognitive map is the totality of its business rules, and that these business rules must be logically consistent within the context of the cognitive map.  We envisioned these business rules as logical Tinker Toys, that is, nodes and links, where the nodes are 'thoughts' and the links are the 'logic' that brings these thoughts together into a unique and comprehensive world view.  We agreed that there are fundamentally two forms of business rule in the cognitive map.  First, there are the semantic rules.  The semantic rules define the thought structure of the cognitive map.  Then there are the stimulus response, or S-R, rules.  The S-R rules define its logical structure and control how the enterprise reacts to certain stimuli."

They all nodded in agreement.  He looked at his group.  In addition to the new folks, his transformation team — Ed Barlow the Chief Financial Officer, Alan Sverdlow the Chief Information Officer, and Susan DeCarno the Chief Operations Officer — were all present.  The discussion over the cognitive map had been very animated.  The most intense debate, however, had less to do with the make up of the cognitive map, and more to do with who was responsible for it.  Alan Sverdlow, the CIO, had maintained that his organization had very little to do with the content of the cognitive map, and held that the user community was in control of it.  The others had complained that this was an excuse for the fact that they had bad data in bad databases, and that was IT's fault.  This time, McCafferty hoped he could keep the discussion away from reentering that emotional quagmire and keep the focus on the importance of the cognitive map to overall enterprise performance.  He resumed his train of thought.

"The thought structure in the cognitive map provides the building blocks for collective 'enterprise thinking.'  Thinking is what goes on in the present.  Thought is the residue of thinking, or, perhaps more elegantly, thought is the memory of thinking.  But, thought is not passive when it comes to thinking.  In fact, thought is a very active part of thinking.  The devious thing about thought is that while you think you control it, it is actually controlling you."[1]

Joe Carlin, the newly anointed Chief Knowledge Officer, CKO, cleared his throat.  McCafferty acknowledged him and gave him the floor.  "Interesting train of thought there, Mike, if you will excuse the feeble attempt at humor.  Are you saying that our thinking is under control of enterprise thoughts, uh….., as represented in the business rules in its cognitive map?  Actually, as I say it out loud, it makes more sense.  I can see how we can get caught up on a thought-express, and how that thought-express can take us from where we are to where we want to be, faster and faster, as it gathers speed.  Enron is probably a perfect example of a thought-express — though, sadly, it crashed.  Jeff Skilling cleverly restructured Enron's cognitive map so that Enron became the world's most powerful purveyor of custom derivatives, and the Enron thought-express was off and running."

McCafferty said, "I love your idea of a thought-express, Joe.  Would you agree that the engine of the thought-express is the cognitive map?"

"I can buy that."

"Can you also buy that because the cognitive map constrains the thought process of the enterprise that we can speculate that it is also the fundamental structure that underlies enterprise culture.  Who was it that said, 'Cogito ergo sum.'"  (McCafferty kicked himself again for going into Latin).

"Rene Descartes," said Susan.  "It means 'I think, therefore I am.'"

"Right," said McCafferty.  "And that is exactly my point here.  An enterprise thinks!  And, it is this thinking that creates the thoughts and gives cognition to the collective behavior of its elements, which, by the way, comprise its employees, suppliers and, for the truly successful enterprise, its customers.  We have a name for this collective behavior.  We call it 'culture.'  Culture is the 'I am' of enterprise.  But, there is more.  I am also saying that in addition to the Cartesian formula:  'I think, therefore I am,' we should add the corollary:  'I am what I think.'"

"Ergo cogito sum," quipped Susan proudly.

"Huh?" said Sverdlow.  "Now you have gone too far.  The next thing I expect you to say is that business rules are the DNA of the cognitive enterprise.  You keep using these scientific and biological analogies, and I have told you I think they are really a stretch.  Now you go too far.  You are using philosophy.  What are you, the Dr. Phil of enterprise?"

The group roared in laughter.  "That was quite a mental image you painted," gasped Susan.  "I hope naked photos don't start showing up on our web site."

"That was Dr. Laura, not Dr. Phil, Susan," said Barlow, not able to prevent himself from joining the laughter, "but the image of a naked McCafferty on our web site boggles the mind."

McCafferty, a little pink in the cheeks, waited patiently while they settled down.  "Ahem," he said, clearing his throat, "I happen to believe that all behavior is biologically determined, and that human organizations are very similar to non-human organizations, despite the fact that we humans are rational and they are not.  Rationality, in my view, is simply one of many modes of information processing.  Ants process information, else they would never find food.  So do termites, bumblebees, and every other living thing.  And they process information for the same reason we process information — to survive." [2]

"You know," Joe Carlin chimed in, climbing on the group's thought-express, "I have been thinking a lot about this sort of thing, and I am even more convinced now that I hear your ideas, that enterprises are really 'cognodigms.'

"Hold on just a minute," Susan interjected, "I am getting a bit overwhelmed.  We started off with the cognitive map, which I must admit I still do not understand.  I know it is an important part of the business model, underlying all of the other dimensions, and I can just begin to relate to that idea — though I am still not sure I understand how we go about building it.  But, now I am hearing more new words, one of which, paradigm, I think you could use in Scrabble, but the other, cognodigm, you could not because it was invented in this room.  Before we go on, I hope someone is going to explain the difference between cognodigms and paradigms?"

"Okay, Susan, here is what I think the difference is between paradigms and cognodigms.  Paradigms, to paraphrase Thomas Kuhn, are schools of thought, comprised of teachable theories – that is, ideas and rules – whose value, resilience, and relevance derive from their ability to efficiently and effectively solve emergent problems.  So to Kuhn, paradigms are focused by scientific theories that can be proven to solve the problems they address using empirical tests.[3]  I believe he would agree that scientific paradigms have cognitive maps, because without such a thing, scientists could not define what it is they were trying to prove.  For example, Francis Crick and James Watson won the Nobel Prize in 1962 for their discoveries concerning the molecular structure of nuclear acids and its significance for information transfer in living material, which discoveries led to the unraveling of DNA and the genetic code.  They could not have done that had they not been working within a paradigm whose cognitive map comprised business rules that describe a fundamental conceptual structure comprised of 1) semantic constructs, such as 'codons,' 'bases,' 'amino acids,' 'polypeptide chains,' and so on, and 2) the rules that govern the relationships among these semantic constructs, like:  'three bases comprise a codon,' 'bases on opposing chains must be paired,' 'only certain pairs are possible,' and 'three codons denote end of chain.'  The cognitive map that underlies molecular biology was enriched and expanded upon by Crick and Watson, and the structures they created expanded the rationality of all other molecular biologists who accept and work within the paradigm, regardless, I might add, of language or nationality."

"Okay," said Susan, "I think I understand the idea of scientific paradigms and that they have cognitive maps, and how those maps relate to what you call their bounded rationality.  Now what is this idea of cognodigms?"

"Well, a paradigm is a scientific framework whose rules are empirically validated.  In other words, scientists use paradigms to search for rules as they exist in nature.[4]  On the other hand, enterprises do not search for rules using empirical research; they create rules whose purpose is to control human thought.  Thought control is behavior control – behavior of the collective.  As Mike has pointed out, Enron is a great example of this, so is Snapple, Microsoft, Dell Computer, Starbucks, WalMart, Ebay, and so on.  But, cognodigms are not restricted to enterprises.  Religions are cognodigms.  Governments are cognodigms.  Families are cognodigms.  Football teams are cognodigms.  And so on.  While there are vast differences in the quality and sophistication of these cognodigms, each has its system of thought and each has its business rules.  Each has its data, its information, its knowledge, and its wisdom.  And, what makes this all tick is that at the brain of every cognodigm is its cognitive map."

"In the scientific world, transformations – or as Kuhn calls them 'scientific revolutions' – occur when a paradigm fails to solve emergent problems.  When this happens, its adherents begin the search for a new paradigm that will solve the new problems.  Eventually, through much pain and anguish, a new paradigm emerges to replace the old, and the cycle of paradigmatic change begins anew.  And, I think this idea of paradigmatic change, as described by Kuhn in detail in his book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, is very relevant to our enterprise transformation challenge.[5]  I think that the process of cognodigmatic change mirrors paradigmatic change.  Put that one on your Scrabble board, Susan!" he quipped.

McCafferty turned to Jack Germane, a guest he had invited from NIMA, the National Imaging and Mapping Agency.  NIMA is currently undergoing a massive transformation program, transforming itself from an enterprise that basically makes maps, as Germane put it, to an enterprise that creates and disseminates geospatial intelligence.  He had spent nearly an hour explaining to the group how NIMA had to become a cognitive enterprise because no one really knew what geospatial intelligence was, much less did they believe that its production could be controlled by pre-structured processes.  McCafferty continued. "You heard this concept of a cognodigm, Jack.  How does that fit with NIMA's transformation program?"

"Well," said Germane, "I can say this:  NIMA's most serious challenges stem from the inability of its three central cognodigms – cartography, imagery, and intelligence – to become geospatial intelligence.  But, we can't have a geospatial thought-express until all sides join their respective cognitive maps.  The technical term used to describe this techno-political challenge in NIMA is 'conflation.'  At its simplest form, conflation is merging geospatial feature representations from different sources into one representation.  To achieve geospatial intelligence will require merging heterogeneous representations into a single 'object' representation."

McCafferty picked it up there, "The cognitive scientists have their own term for conflation," he said.  They call it conceptual blending.  According to Seana Coulson, who teaches at the University of Arizona, conceptual blending is a set of operations for combining cognitive models in a network of mental spaces, viz., partitions of speakers' referential representations.[6]  That is creating one cognodigm out of many by blending their cognitive maps."

"Okay, I finally get the relationship between cognodigms and cognitive maps," said Susan.  "Now can you address the issue of how cognitive maps actually work?  What do they do?"

"Can I take a shot at that," asked Germane?"

""Have at it," responded McCafferty.

"Well, Susan, at NIMA we had a program we called 'The Big Idea.'  The focus of this program was to attempt to put structure into the idea of geospatial intelligence and define exactly what the products of a geospatial intelligence producer would be.  The answer to that challenge took the form of what we called the 'cognitive hierarchy.'

Germane got up and went over to the flip chart.  He flipped McCafferty's artwork to the back of the easel and drew a picture on a fresh page:

The Cognitive Hierarchy

He continued.  "This is a picture, somewhat modified to help me make some points, of what we at NIMA called the cognitive hierarchy.  NIMA's view is that the cognitive hierarchy starts with 'data,' then aggregates data into 'information,' information into 'knowledge,' knowledge into 'wisdom.  I added the step that aggregates knowledge into 'intelligence.'"

"I get the hierarchical relationships among data, information and so on.  Actually, that is pretty clever.  I like the idea that information is an accumulation of data and that knowledge is an accumulation of information.  I am going to assume that there are rules that control the accumulation logic and that these rules are some of these business rules you talk about.  But, what is this stuff that data is sitting on:  meanings and facts," asked Susan?

"Well, they are the keys to the kingdom of cognition, so to speak.  These are the links between the cognitive hierarchy and the cognitive map.  Focusing on the bottom two blocks, the chart says that you can't have a 'data' unless you have both a 'meaning' and a 'fact.'  Facts are where our minds touch the real world.  That is, facts are what our senses – all of them – tell us about the real world.  But, without this idea of meanings, the facts we sense do not make sense.  For example, we could sense (see or hear) a fact:  '10.'  But without a meaning, we don't know what the 10 stands for.  It could be degrees centigrade; it could be the age of my granddaughter; it could be Bo Derek.  Who knows?"

"Okay," said Susan, "I can see where the facts come from – our senses – but where do the meanings come from?"

"Well, they are created by our minds and they are stored in our cognitive maps.  One of the unique aspects of our rationality is that it operates on discrete ideas.  Our ability to put edges around these ideas, that is, to uniquely identify them, their attributes and the relationships between ideas and their attributes is unique and necessary to rationality.  It is these ideas, their edges and relationships, which establish meanings.  And, to be candid, if we did not share the same meanings, we would not be able to communicate with each other.  To communicate means to be able to work collectively."

"Back to the bumblebees," quipped Sverdlow.  McCafferty had used a study of bumblebee behavior by Bernd Heinrich, Bumblebee Economic, to explain some of the critical differences between collective and individual behavior.

"Yes," said Germane.  "Back to the bees.  But, to emphasize McCafferty's point about transforming enterprises into cognitive entities, you can definitely see the trend in that direction because with our enterprises, and NIMA is a good example, we are evolving somewhat of a division of labor along the lines of the cognitive hierarchy:  data people – like me, information people, knowledge people – like Joe, intelligence people, and maybe eventually we will have wisdom people – like Mike here."

McCafferty flushed a bit then gathered himself.  "Let me interject a quick point here before we lose this train of thought – or should I say thought-express?  In my bumblebee analogy, it was clear that the survival of the nest was a function of the division of labor – foragers, scouts, queens, and so on – among the members of the nest.  Historically, the division of labor in an enterprise has been along functional lines – marketing, sales, engineering, and so on.  But in the cognitive enterprise we see a new division of labor evolving, along the lines of the cognitive map.  We are beginning to hear about information workers, knowledge workers, and so on.  The question is, 'what does the emerging division of labor portend for future enterprise behavior?'  I contend that the division of labor that Germane has described presages not just the cognitive enterprise model, but a change in the way enterprises define and service their customers.  At the end of the day, that is the critical challenge.  If an enterprise doesn't serve its customers, it doesn't survive."

"The survival issue here, like with the bumblebees, is the challenge of collective behavior.  We know that bumblebees exhibit individual and collective behavior.  So do ants, termites, and honeybees.  What creates collective behavior is communication.  There many different forms of communication.  Ants use pheromones.  Termites use chemical odors.  Honey bees dance.  Enterprises exchange thoughts.  It is this thought exchange that interests me.  I want to focus on this for a bit.  The issue here is what I call 'cognition,'" said McCafferty.

"There is a fascinating parallel between the words cognition and ignition.  Ignition, the more physical term, carries with it the notions of initiation, action, speed, growth, and movement – but in a physical sense.  Cognition has the same implications and meanings, but in the meta-physical or logical sense.  Ignition combines various physical elements until movement occurs.  The same is true with cognition.  The difference is that ignition combines physical elements, whereas, cognition combines thoughts.

"The modern enterprise is all about cognition in the above sense.  The enterprise cognitive map provides structure for the inventory of thoughts and the rules of their logic that must be present for cognition to occur in and among the enterprise modules.  If cognition does not occur in those modules, or if it occurs in the wrong way, the overall performance of the enterprise will suffer.

"If we think of organizational thinking as a process, we can divide that process into three parts:  perception, cognition and memory.  [Each can be subdivided, but subdivision is not necessary right now.]  The first two of these are obviously active, but, while memory may seem passive, it is definitely not.  In fact, the more memory there is, the more active memory becomes in the thinking process.  Thoughts that have already been thought definitely control thoughts that are or will be thought.  We have been calling this phenomenon the 'thought-express.'

"If processes are perception and cognition, data is memory.  But, memory must have structure, else it will not work.  Without structure, it would be impossible to store or to find things in memory, much less to retrieve them or share them among perceptive and cognitive activities.  The question is:  'Where does this structure come from?'  Again, the answer is not the obvious answers of 'from the technologies' or 'from the processes.'  The answer is that the structure of organizational thought comes from the organization's 'business rules.'  Ultimately, business rules are both the language and the logic of the organization.  As such, they are the underpinnings of the organization's culture, its viability, and its information technology infrastructure.  In effect, they define the organizational persona.  They define the thoughts that occur in the organizational mind and control what it perceives, understands, interprets, and reacts to.

"Which," interjected Ed Barlow, "brings us full circle to Joe's idea of a cognodigm.  I think this is a very important concept, and I am glad that you brought it up, Joe.  But, I have to leave now.  My cognodigm – uh, wife – just called and I have to pick up the kids on the way home."

The group broke up, planning to reconvene and take up the question as to what changes Sverdlow will have to make in the IT world to bring the cognitive enterprise into existence.


[1]  David Bohm, Thought As A System, p. 5.  return to article

[2]  Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, p.15.  return to article

[3]  Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, p. 21.  return to article

[4]  Richard P. Feynman, The Meaning Of It All, pp. 15-18.  return to article

[5]  Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, p. 23.  return to article

[6]  Seana Coulson, Fake Guns and Stone Lions:  Conceptual Blending and Privative Adjectivesreturn to article

# # #

Standard citation for this article:

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Daniel S. Appleton , "Cognodigms" Business Rules Journal Vol. 4, No. 3, (Mar. 2003)

About our Contributor:

Daniel  S. Appleton
Daniel S. Appleton Consultant, DACOM

Daniel S. Appleton has long been a respected consultant and thought leader in the field of business engineering. He has over 35 years of management and consulting experience in both the commercial and government environments, and he has held line positions as Director of Strategic Planning, CIO, and CEO. In 1984, in a series of Datamation articles (including his often-referenced article, "Business
Rules, the Missing Link"), Dan set forth the concept of 'business rules,' portraying them as the primary bridge between IT and the user community, and the primary determinant of organizational behavior in an information age enterprise.

Dan's essential skills lay in his ability to construct and subsequently to implement business models that work and that create value. He has received numerous honors and awards for his leading edge thinking.

Dan is a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley and has an MBA from American University.

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