More on OODA & Cynefin

November 11, 2012

Mark Hart made an important point in his comment on my post of yesterday.  Boyd’s model was developed for decision making in war time, so it’s about real time, near instinctive decision making in operation.  He said: A Boydian loop has a momentary duration. Typically, the characterization of a Cynefin domain has a longer duration (days, weeks, months, years,…) that may persist for the duration of the entire project.

Now I agree with him on this.  The Cynefin framework is first about situational awareness, followed by contextually appropriate action.  It is part of a wider body of methods that we may decide to brand as Cynefin – the word has acquired a significance beyond the initial framework and has high name recognition.  Something that is good and bad.  On the negative side it means you have to put up with people trying to misuse, or in one extreme case, misappropriate, the brand for their own pet theories.  On the positive side its about discovering moving examples of personal use (I hope to publish one of those shortly, waiting for permission).  Whatever, the Taoist injunction to dwell in reality, and let all illusions go (Chapter 38, Tao Te Ching) is an necessary aspect of putting anything into the public domain.

To return to the subject, there are other methods in the stable which are about real time action, but a lot of my work in particular is focused on creating capability for resilience.  So with SenseMaker® we are now building human sensor networks to improve decision making under conditions of uncertainty; techniques such as Social Network Stimulation create loosely coupled networks that can utilise pre-established trust;  crews allow cross-silo teams to operate from the point of assembly without the need for formation.  I could go on, but you get the drift.  The way you deal with uncertainty is to create networked capability and intelligence in advance of a need the nature of which could never really be forecast.

A part of that focus on resilience is to move to situational assessment methods that allow people to quickly, ideally instantly, determine which Cynefin domain they are in, of which transition they are living through. In order to do that its not enough to have a framework, you have to find ways to define that framework that allow people to use it without the need for abstract knowledge or the presence of interpreters.  Now Cynefin has done pretty well on its own.  The citations have been high, lots of articles use it as a primary interpretative framework.  The fact that it evolved over years with multiple influences is important for that, it was not just constructed based on empirical observation or reflection but arose from the interaction of the two.

But there is a stage beyond simply drawing it as a sense-making tool on the back of a napkin, or with a rusty nail on a wall (a police officer discussion how to handle a hostage situation).  In full strategic use Cynefin is socially constructed (which is not the same thing as social constructivism to be clear) from multiple perspectives using micro-narrative from the organisations own perspective of its past, present and possible futures.  As different perspectives are isolated they are discussed, the narratives changed and clarified until the frameworks domains and boundaries (and in advanced use dynamics) are defined not by abstract words, but my multiple resonant fragments.

That allows people to say (or intuit) its like these so its …  which is a natural way humans to make decisions.  We use past patterns to make decisions not analytical thinking.   We need to build methods, frameworks and software that follow the natural contours of one hundred and fifty thousand years of evolution.  That way adoption, and Boyds objective to get into fast intuitive decision making is a lot easier.  By defining the framework on the organisations own perspective, but objectifying that through multiple iterations we can achieve that at a collective level.  Like all techniques focused on resilience, you invest up front to create real time capability downstream.  Fortune as Pasteur famously said, favours the prepared mind.

The method for this is described in one of my Origins of Cynefin posts and is known as Four Points.  The opening picture is from the method and shows an early stage of construction with disorder dominating.  It is one of the methods we teach on the advanced courses.


PS: a new blog published today also describes this method, so you want a third party perspective read it!

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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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