kun-ev’in - easy to overlook

January 29, 2011

It’s easy to forget, when you’ve been through an accreditation course and done some exercises here and there and are focused on finding and implementing a SenseMaker project, that the Cynefin framework that underpins all of this is still something that has the power to astonish people.

In recent years, whenever I’m talking to a non-KM or non-Cognitive Edge audience I spend a few minutes outlining the basic framework – the five domains, the importance of that cliff between simple and chaos and the different approaches in each. For the communications, leadership and sector-specific audiences, it still comes as a big breakthrough for them. There are always some who are disappointed that, having seen it, I emphasise that one of the implications is that there is no magic 12-step process out of their particular problem – or that the solution someone else came up with may not be entirely applicable to their context.

The majority, however, seem to undergo a mixture of “Aha” and “Thank God!” – the lights come on in their eyes and the weight shifts from their shoulders. For those of us who’ve been in business for a while (and even more so for those of us who’ve wasted time on an MBA) much of the emphasis of the past 20 years has been on cramming the organisational world into the Complicated domain.

In my case – working in communications of one sort or another – I’d never managed to work out what the process was by which I could create a guaranteed result. In general, when challenged I was able to defend myself, but felt I was either a) too stupid to work out what the different obstacles and processes were or b) too lazy to really apply myself to working them out. That there was another way of looking at the whole problem – and that much of it fitted into a domain called Complex which was inherently unpredictable – was a relief and a revelation.

There are few conversations these days that don’t at some point cover the Cynefin framework – and I’m getting better at understanding its implications and using it as more than just a categorisation framework – but it’s easy to forget that for most people it’s a wonderful new thing and opens up their horizons substantially.

Once seen, it makes eminent sense to most people. Left to their own devices, it then percolates into their thinking and they can start to see what fits within Complex, what within Complicated, what falls on borders – and then they start wondering what to do next about Complexity. Which is when the fun starts.

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About the Cynefin Company

The Cynefin Company (formerly known as Cognitive Edge) was founded in 2005 by Dave Snowden. We believe in praxis and focus on building methods, tools and capability that apply the wisdom from Complex Adaptive Systems theory and other scientific disciplines in social systems. We are the world leader in developing management approaches (in society, government and industry) that empower organisations to absorb uncertainty, detect weak signals to enable sense-making in complex systems, act on the rich data, create resilience and, ultimately, thrive in a complex world.

Cognitive Edge Ltd. & Cognitive Edge Pte. trading as The Cynefin Company and The Cynefin Centre.


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