Is Dave Snowden’s Vector Theory of Change Deleuzian?

Prompted by an article by Roger Martin on “Ways of Understanding”, I had some reflections on the relationship between Dave Snowden’s Vector Theory of Change and Gilles Deleuze’s philosophy of Difference. Snowden’s theory adopts a more iterative – and in my view Deleuzian – approach compared to traditional change theories (which err more on the side of Hegel). Deleuze’s concept of difference and repetition resonates with the Vector Theory of Change, emphasizing the iterative, different-in-itself process of evolving towards a new target state.

I recently came across Roger Martin’s idea of “Mysteries in search of a heuristic1 and the post on Ways of Understanding where he makes a case for the difference between the analytical case method and the synthetic conventional scientific research methodology.2

Independently, I had a foray into Gilles Deleuze’s ideas on Difference (and his ideas of analytical empiricism and creation), by proxy of two excellent articles over at The Collector3, and I was mulling over a concept for a new initiative where change – and how we think about bringing change (and difference) into being - are of central importance.

Reading and thinking through all of this sent me down rabbit hole and made me wonder

  • if the case method and the “conventional scientific research methodology” as described by Roger Marting could be seen as Deleuzian and Hegelian respectively, and then
  • if Dave Snowden ever thought of his “Vector theory of change4 as being decidedly Deleuzean in nature, and
  • whether the philosophical underpinning between the Vector Theory of Change and traditional Theories of Change is that of a Deleuzian versus Hegelian approach to “Difference”.

As Linda Doyle writes in the Cynefin Co’s explainer on the Vector Theory of Change:

Traditional theories of change typically involve envisioning an end point, then working backwards to identify each step that must be achieved in order to realise the end goal, with rationales and assumptions identified at each step.4

Looking at this in terms of difference, this approach is more like difference as negation, difference only seen as the relation to two identities (the end point y in relation (and negation) of the starting point y), the relation of x to the y. Which is arguably Hegelian in its nature, as the end state can only exist in its difference to the start state. Or, as Choudhary writes:

Within the same identity are two elements (thesis and antithesis) which are extremely opposites to one another such that their differences can be eliminated to create a “superior” unity (the synthesis).5

The Vector theory of change, on the other hand, is arguably much more Deleuzian in its philosophical underpinning. As [[Monisha Choudhary]] writes, Difference and Repetition6, Deleuze’s magnus opum is about “new modes of thinking and becoming are developed through difference and repetition.” (emphasis mine)5

As Choudhary exlplains further:

the Deleuzian philosophy of difference is a philosophy of change – a change which occurs by difference and repetition.

For [Deleuze], repetition is a function of time and as well as an embodiment of time itself.5

Looking at the Vector theory of change in this way, we can see that the iterative approach to change and thinking of the change as a vector (or rather, its differential dx), fits very well with the idea of Deleuze’s difference-in-itself, and that the theory supports the becoming of a new target state through difference and repetition.7

To me, it seems that one could well look at the Vector Theory of Change this way. And of course, I secretly wonder if that idea of a Deleuzian vs. Hegelian approach to Complexity has not even more to it.

  1. Martin, Roger. 2023. ‘Ways of Understanding’. Medium (blog). 16 October 2023.↩︎

  2. In short, the case method is analytical and distills a theory, starting with observations, whereas the conventional scientific method is synthetic and starts with a hypothesis which is then underpinned by (synthetic) empirical research that attempts to prove - or disprove - this hypothesis. ↩︎

  3. Understanding Gilles Deleuze and the Concept of Difference by Luke Dunne and Gilles Deleuze: The Philosophy of Creation by Monisha Choudhary. ↩︎

  4. Doyle, Linda. 2021. ‘Change & Complexity:  Vector Theory of Change’. The Cynefin Centre.↩︎ ↩︎

  5. Choudhary, Monisha. 2022. ‘Gilles Deleuze: The Philosophy of Creation’. 21 August 2022.↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎

  6. Deleuze, Gilles. 1994. Difference and Repetition. New York: Columbia University Press. ↩︎

  7. One could argue that the moment in which a target state of a change initiative in a complex environment has been reached, the system itself has changed again, so we will never be in a desired target state, but will perpetually be in a state of becoming↩︎


No comments. Be the first to add one!
Add a comment.
We'll never share your email with anyone else. We use the Gravatar system to pull in pictures based on an anonymous hash.
Once you submit your comment, it will be moderated and then show up here shortly after.