Understanding complexity - The Cynefin framework


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A brief overview of the Cynefin framework, with discussion on complexity, and why it is important to understand how organisations work in order to implement change.

Published in: Business, Technology
  • Human: complex, complicated and chaotic. Unpredictable ...
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  • Slide 4 has a small error. There is no cause and effect in Complex systems
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  • This is an inspiring and motivating presentation. Keith, you mention on slide 8 on emergence 'but humans are more complex'. Why? Is it because of emotional interactions? of hidden agenda? Of fluctuating needs and desires? of varying agenda and concepts of win-win situations? Also, do we have any chance of predicting emerging behavior? In football (soccer) stadium we see emerging wavy behaviors when a goal is scored like the pattern that emerges with flocking birds. Thanks again for your probing presentation
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  • Most interesting presentation on Cynefin. I wonder if the label of the central space is confusing here. In Dave’s works the space is mostly unlabeled. I feel that Shawn Callahan’s ’Unorder’ is a more useful term, as it is virtually impossible to distinguish Chaos from disorder.

    Isn’t the imperative ’Act-sense-respond’ pattern one of finding some measure of order in the random or utterly confusing set of signals that are the responses to our actions? 99% of people will apply some pattern, in other words, will rely on a cognitive bias to establish order, thus superstition, blindness, stereotypes, and so on. In my experience, it takes a very rare skill to be truly comfortable in living with disorder.
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  • John -

    Fair point - complex is complex! There are some details of the Cynefin model that I haven't included here, of course, but either way it is easy to delete that line, and leave the point as it is.
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Understanding complexity - The Cynefin framework

  1. 1. Understanding complex organisations: The Cynefin model Keith De La Rue
  2. 2. Why complexity theory? <ul><li>“ One recent study of 40 companies found that 58% of change initiatives failed to reach their goals” </li></ul><ul><ul><li>McKinsey Quarterly, 2002 </li></ul></ul><ul><li>We need to understand how organisations work, before we can effectively change them </li></ul><ul><li>Organisations now depend more on people </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Complex, unpredictable, dynamic </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Resistant to engineering </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Change is only made possible by people </li></ul>
  3. 3. The Cynefin Framework <ul><li>A way to look at the nature of organisations </li></ul><ul><li>An understanding of complexity </li></ul><ul><li>Tools to work with the environment </li></ul><ul><ul><li>“Sensemaking” </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Developed by David Snowden, Cognitive Edge </li></ul><ul><li>Welsh: “habitat, place” </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Conveys the sense that we all have multiple pasts of which we are only partly aware: cultural, religious, geographic, tribal, etc </li></ul></ul>
  4. 4. <ul><li>Complex </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Cause and effect coherent in retrospect, repeat accidentally – unpredictable </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Frog </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Complicated </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Cause and effect separated over time & space, but repeat – analysable </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Knowable </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>747 </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Simple </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Cause & effect relations repeatable & predictable </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Known </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Bicycle </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Chaos </li></ul><ul><ul><li>No cause and effect relationships generally perceivable </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>House on fire </li></ul></ul>
  5. 5. <ul><li>Complex </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Multiple small and diverse interventions to create options </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Probe-sense-respond </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Complicated </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Analytical techniques to determine facts and option range </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Sense-analyse-respond </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Simple </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Standard processes with review cycles and clear measures </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Sense-categorise-respond </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Chaos </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Single or multi actions to stabilise situations </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Act-sense-respond </li></ul></ul>
  6. 6. <ul><li>Complex </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Informal </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Emergence </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Social Media </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Complicated </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Domain of experts </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Good practice </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>20 th Century </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Simple </li></ul><ul><ul><li>“ Business as usual” </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Best practice </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>19 th Century </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Chaos </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Novel </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Crisis </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Catastrophic change </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Ordered </li></ul></ul>Unordered Disorder
  7. 7. Organisations are complex <ul><li>Dynamic, with rich interactions </li></ul><ul><li>Different people operating at different levels </li></ul><ul><li>Feedback </li></ul><ul><li>Non-linear, unpredictable </li></ul><ul><li>Emergent characteristics </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Whole different to sum of parts </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Small changes can have large impacts </li></ul><ul><li>History can make a difference </li></ul>
  8. 8. Emergence <ul><li>Fly to the centre </li></ul><ul><li>Match speed </li></ul><ul><li>Avoid collision </li></ul><ul><li>(But humans are more complex) </li></ul>http://www.flickr.com/photos/moriza/
  9. 9. Simple wisdom doesn’t apply <ul><li>“ The definition of insanity is doing the same thing twice and expecting a different result” </li></ul><ul><ul><li>In a complex environment, doing the same thing twice will give a different result </li></ul></ul><ul><li>“ You can't fix what you can't measure” </li></ul><ul><ul><li>You can intervene in a complex environment, even though you can’t measure it reliably </li></ul></ul>
  10. 10. Further information <ul><li>David Snowden, Cognitive Edge: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>http://www.cognitive-edge.com/ </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Shawn Callahan, Anecdote: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>http://www.anecdote.com.au/ </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Keith De La Rue, AcKnowledge Consulting: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>http://acknowledgeconsulting.com </li></ul></ul>