The Hexi cwtch

April 30, 2024

Earlier today Nigel Thurlow and I were involved in a workshop with, hosted by Patricia Kong, to launch the new Scrum hexi kit.   It was recorded so I don’t intend to replicate material from Nigel’s presentation – I was there to present one slide (see the header) and also to be involved in the question and answer session.  I met Patricia at an Agile event in Amsterdam earlier in the year and updated her on the Hexi for Agile initiative: there was already work underway with a group of senior people from the community.  So today was the culmination of a lot of effort by a lot of people.   For me, it was a key milestone in what has been a twenty-five-year quest that started when I was working at IBM.  When we moved out of the shadow of the IKM and, for a brief two-year period, had a focus on complexity science, we developed a body of methods and tools with a view to creating a new model of consultancy.   The overall idea was a network of academics, independents and IBM staff, training in a common set of methods and concepts and able to compete with the large consultancies, using the network model to handle the bench problem of utilisation commercial models.  If you don’t know what that is, offer up thanks to the Gods and move on. 

One of the things we needed to do was to overcome the memory issue associated with training.  It has been long established that if you don’t use something pretty soon after training you tend to forget it.  Also, there is a tendency to repeat whatever worked last time, to follow a recipe rather than acting more like a chef: assembling ingredients in context to create not just a meal but a dining experience.  In order to manage that, we created a series of hexagons to act as prompts and reminders of methods and principles.  I found the original set the other day and I’ve added it in at the base of the post.  That also contains the marketing image that IBM put together for us, along with one of my two major irritations over the years with IBM marketing, namely substituting a jellyfish for a Portuguese Man of War because it looked better.  For those who don’t know the Portuguese Man of War is not a single entity but a symbiosis of multiple entities.  The other time was when they changed the text of a worldwide advertising campaign to call be a behaviourist – that appeared in the Financial and New York Times along with other prestigious journals with a full-page picture of yours truly as one of IBM’s six on-demand thinkers.  Ironically, that came just as the forces were assembling to make my continued work within IBM untenable.

If you want to know why we chose the Hexagon shape then there is no better way to understand than to watch Hexagons are the Bestagons.  As to why the physical artefacts, well, moving things around horizontally engages more people, and they also act as memory devices.  We lay the full set out on one table, and people go looking for solutions, triggering memories or exciting curiosity; in those early days, we just had a name and a picture.  We did have an agreement when I left IBM that I could take everything with me and IBM would have rights to new developments.  But the handshake deal was not honoured in legal so we had to leave everything behind and reinvent and/or wait for IBM patents or trademarks to lapse or be rejected. It was a bit frustrating, but twenty years later, as you can see from the illustration of the front and back of the triopticon hext to the right, and also the banner picture, we have got a lot more sophisticated.  There are now multiple types of hexagons and also various scales to indicate what is needed in terms of material, skills and engagement.

Hexi assemblies work in various ways but they include:

  1. Product design: The banner picture shows me putting together the new Agile Culture Quicksense, not only the product but also possible downstream developments of additional services.
  2. In training, we have found over the years that allowing people to assemble hexi to solve problems is a really good way of embodying learning in the final session of a course
  3. In projects and programmes, creating context-specific assemblies of methods and tools from multiple vendors to avoid the tyranny of rigid recipe-based approaches.

The latter of these uses brings me back to the event with and also our decision to create Hexi as a separate brand and open source the whole approach.  Hexi is a high-level brand; our tools and methods will have Cynefin branding, with have Scrum and so on.  This fits in with my long-term plea in various keynotes and training programmes around the Rewilding Agile theme for a multi-vendor approach to the next generation of software development and its integration into the wider business.  I am pleased to say that the old DSDM consortium (of which I was one of the three founding members), which was one of the three feeds into the Agile manifesto, is a part of the launch.  We set that up as open source, between competitors to move the field forward.  There is also a symmetry here as Ken’s work at was one of the first applied applications of complexity science into a business environment. 

While Hexi is a wider concept – we have emerging contributors from foresight, strategy, OD, Design and elsewhere it is of particular importance in the current state of the Agile marketplace.  All of that is in the recording of the seminar, which I commend to you, and expect a lot more from me over the next few months.  I plan a series of posts showing different assemblies of our Hexi set, and there is a lot more to come.  The Scrum seminar also leads to a sign-up sheet for those interested in creating hexi sets.

So, there is a lot more to come on this, but as an endpoint, Sjoerd (Sjoerdly) Kranendonk made a Welsh connection for me: “A funny coincidence in my typo of catch… cwtch is Welsh (like cynefin)… it means to hold tightly or lovingly cuddle, which is what I intend to do with the insights shared. Also, a cwtch is a small storage space to hold things safe, like the hexis are small containers of potentially valuable ideas and practices… “  I wish I had thought of that one for myself

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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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