The Cynefin Framework

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Contingency Theory > Best Practices > The Cynefin Framework

The Cynefin Framework
Jaap de Jonge, Editor, Netherlands
A recent application of contingency thinking on decision-making is the Cynefin framework described by David J. Snowden and Mary E. Boone in the HBR of Nov 2007. They distinguish between 5 decision-making contexts, each requiring its own decision-making style:
I. Simple
- Characteristics of context / How can you recognize it? Clear causes and effect.
- Recommended Decision-making style: Ensure proper processes are in place, delegate. Apply the best practice.
- Decision model: Sense ⇒ Categorize ⇒ Respond.
II. Complicated
- Characteristics of context / How can you recognize it? Cause and effect relationships discoverable, but not apparent to everyone.
- Recommended Decision-making style: Involve (teams of) experts, analyze. Apply a good practice.
- Decision model: Sense ⇒ Analyze ⇒ Respond.
III. Complex
- Characteristics of context / How can you recognize it? No causality, emergence, flux.
- Recommended Decision-making style: Create safe experiments, wait for patterns to emerge. Then amplify or dampen/drop. Apply the emergent practice.
- Decision model: Probe ⇒ Sense ⇒ Respond.
IV. Chaotic
- Characteristics of context / How can you recognize it? Turbulence, crisis
- Recommended Decision-making style: Take immediate action, communicate clear and directly. Apply a novel practice.
- Decision model: Act ⇒ Sense ⇒ Respond
V. Disorder
- Characteristics of context / How can you recognize it? None of the 4 above is prevailing or at least it is not known which one is prevailing.
- Recommended Decision-making style: Break down into the other 4 realms.

Adept decision-makers should learn how to:
1. Identify the context properly
2. Change their behavior and decisions to match that context
3. Prepare their organizations to understand and deal with the different contexts.
 

 
Cynefin Simple Domain Renamed to 'Obvious Domain'
Gary Wong, Consultant, Canada, Premium Member
The Cynefin Framework is a sufficient, but always partial view of reality. As additional information arrives and new insights emerge, adjustments are made to reflect the real world.
Recent thinking recognizes that in all 4 domains a few, simple rules seem to guide behavior. By “simple”, we mean an action that can be easily carried out. Examples are applying a rule-of-thumb heuristic, following a straight-forward process, or performing an entrained habit.
Unfortunately, the word “Simple” has been associated with one of the domains. Consequently, Dave Snowden decided to rename 'Simple' domain to 'Obvious' domain.
When describing the Cynefin framework in terms of Cause & Effect relationships, “Obvious” carries the same meaning – clear, straight-forward.
 

     
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