Cynefin evolves

Credit: David Snowden, Creative Commons license

Credit: David Snowden, Creative Commons license

I have had an interest in David Snowden’s Cynefin framework for understanding complexity for some years now, and so it has been really interesting to read his blogs on how he is updating the model and adding a finer layer of granularity. He has made the latest versions available on Flickr under a creative commons license, which is great as it means they are available for researchers like myself to explore and play with.

The Cynefin model is all about making sense of reality, and it can only really be fully understood in relation to the SenseMaker® application developed by Cognitive Edge. In its original form, the Cynefin framework consisted of five domains, although there are many versions drawn by others who seem to miss the central domain of disorder.

Source: A Leader’s Framework for Decision Making, Harvard Business Review, November 2007

Source: A Leader’s Framework for Decision Making, Harvard Business Review, November 2007

As you can see from the main image at the top, the new version of Cynefin depicts pathways through the model, and these have been expanded, as you can see in these images below:

Credit: David Snowden, Creative Commons license

Credit: David Snowden, Creative Commons license

Credit: David Snowden, Creative Commons license

Credit: David Snowden, Creative Commons license

Credit: David Snowden, Creative Commons license

Credit: David Snowden, Creative Commons license

Credit: David Snowden, Creative Commons license

Credit: David Snowden, Creative Commons license

In writing about Cynefin, Snowden makes the point that the framework should be seen as scaffolding, and not be confused with reality itself:

Cynefin, and now the sub-domains along with various methods and of course tools such as SenseMaker® all have at their heart the goal of creating scaffolding through which and by which people can make sense of their world in different ways. Since my early days in knowledge management I have emphasised the need to focus on context. Cynefin used in full form is contextualised by the micro-narratives of that organisation’s own perception of its past, present and future. I have railed against strategy and other models that simply define themselves and make organisations fit into pre-given structures. So I developed our method of emergent archetypes rather than have some academic or marketing company come up with a set of so called universal archetypes to which customers or employees had to be categorised, labeled and duly filed away.  Consistency is achieved through process and structure not through final product. Source: Context & Cynefin

I love this description as it forces us to remind ourselves that in our working lives we constantly use frameworks and many of us construct models, but we do not realise two traps. Not only do we fail to realise how our deeply embedded mental models construct our reality we experience, but we also confuse the models we build (which stem from our mental models) with reality. Hence we need to develop a degree of mindfulness so that we are always cognisant of these traps.

One of my obsessions these last two or three years has been to really focus on wholeness and the relationship between our conceptualisation of wholeness and both complexity science and systems thinking. This is why you will have seen my explorations and writings on Henri Bortoft, Hans-Georg Gadamer and Ludwig Wittgenstein every so often. How can phenomenology and hermeneutics help us make sense of the world and what is their relationship with complexity and systems thinking? As Wittgenstein famously said “Philosophy is the battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language.” I love this phrase as it reminds me not to get so lost in language and the analytical side of my mind and brain when contemplating life. Just as language is indispensable to us, so are frameworks, but as Snowden reminds us, they are like scaffolding which when finished with, can be removed, and should not be confused with what we are constructing.

If you would like to join in the conversation, please as always feel free to comment below, or also if you are interested in these specific themes, on Facebook on a page I run for people wishing to discuss wholeness and the work of Henri Bortoft.

Related Articles

Braziliance! Chaos and Complexity, Philosophy and Flux Through Brazilian Eyes – Reflections from Sustentare (This article summarises my own work in sensemaking).

Links

Cognitive Edge Network

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