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The Cynefin Framework

A brief introduction to the Cynefin framework. I edit this for the group I'm working with, so some bits might not make sense to you.

Dave Whittington

on 16 November 2016

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Transcript of The Cynefin Framework

The Cynefin Framework
Dave Snowden and Mary Boone

A Leader's Framework for Decision Making
Snowden and Boone (HBR Nov 2007)

“This paper introduces an important new perspective that has enormous future value, and does so in a clear way that shows it can be used ... First, and most importantly, it introduces complexity science to guide managers' thoughts and actions.”

aka the Known or Obvious
Mechanistic and predictable
Clear connection between cause and effect
Examples include basic purchasing decisions, office supplies, furniture, company car.
Sense -> Categorize -> Respond
Best Practice

aka the Knowable
Predictable only with work and expertise
Our IT strategy. Mix of Microsoft, Apple & Google – this works for us, but not for others.
Sense -> Analyze -> Respond
Good Practice

The domain of not knowing.
Where our biases rule. So pay attention to your biases.
This is why self-awareness and self-management are a vital foundation of leadership.
Now we'll use the cynefin framework to make sense of your work and your project.

Working with a partner, identify your top 3-5 responsibilities. Write each one on a separate yellow post-it note.

Write the title of your project on a pink post it note.

No clear connection between cause and effect
Stock markets and minefields
Just because one of many predictions was right, doesn't make it predictable. Hindsight is always 20/20.

Probe -> Sense -> Respond
Emergent Practice
Safe fail experiments:
“We shouldn’t even do an experiment unless we’ve identified our amplification and dampening strategies in advance” - Dave Snowden

“tracking and fanning” - Gervase Bushe
“Everything is connected. Everything changes. Pay attention.” - Jane Hirshfield
“There's a simple solution to every complex problem, and it's wrong.” - Umberto Eco

Act -> Sense -> Respond
Emergency Response – Act quickly, and with authority.
Novel and creative approaches
Coping with medical crisis!
Mayor Rudy Giuliani - during the 9/11 crisis
Leadership needs to reassure and stabilize
Further Reading
The new dynamics of strategy: Sense-making in a complex and complicated world
Cynthia Kurtz and Dave Snowden
Capitalizing on Complexity: Insights from the Global CEO Study (2010)


“It is this unprecedented level of interconnection and interdependency that underpins the most important findings contained in this report. Inside this revealing view into the agendas of global business and public sector leaders, three widely shared perspectives stand in relief.

1) The world’s private and public sector leaders believe that a rapid escalation of “complexity” is the biggest challenge confronting them. They expect it to continue — indeed, to accelerate — in the coming years.

2) They are equally clear that their enterprises today are not equipped to cope effectively with this complexity in the global environment.

3) Finally, they identify “creativity” as the single most important leadership competency for enterprises seeking a path through this complexity.”
7 principles of intervention in complex systems – February 2012

1. You need multiple parallel experiments and they should be based on different and competing theories.
2. They must be safe-to-fail, which (to state the obvious) means that if they fail you must be able to survive the consequences and recover.
3. A percentage must fail, if not you are not stretching the boundaries enough and your scanning range is reduced in consequence.
4. Each experiment must be coherent, not just a stab in the dark. Ideally coherence should be based on evidence, at a minimum ritual dissent should be used to test the ideas.
5. Actions speak louder than words, if you are trying to counter a negative story then taking small visible actions that make the story impossible to tell is the best policy. Countering stories with stories rarely works as does countering them with facts. Doing things makes all the difference.
6. You don't start any experiment, safe-to-fail or otherwise unless you can monitor its impact in real time, or at least within correction time of your …
7. … damping or amplification strategy. Working both out in advance is key, so you are ready to respond quickly to either success or failure.
Agile Manifesto - http://agilemanifesto.org/

We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.
Making Sense of the work you do

At your tables, working together, using the post-its and blank frameworks ...
Use a post-it note for each of your main roles and responsibilities. Place it on the Cynefin framework where it makes most sense.
Have a conversation with your colleagues, do they make sense of things the same way you do?
Full transcript