Contextually Appropriate Perspectives

Written by Zhen Goh

The Cognitive Edge approach highlight the importance of recognising that multiple perspectives exist within groups however homogeneous in appearance. The ability to draw out these varying perspectives, and provide a visualisation of these for effective comparisons of similarities and contrasts provides managers with cultural-navigational skills. The framework allows people to differentiate the perspectives and place them in the appropriate context, and to react to the context in the proper way. In the absence of contextual differentiation, people will do what is comfortable rather than what is appropriate.

Cynefin (pronounced KUH-nevin) is a Welsh word translated into English as the place of one’s multiple belongings. The concept is rooted in the fact that humans as homo narrans (MacIntyre 1981) have multiple pasts, whether tribal, cultural or religious, and all these pasts combine to influence perspectives. The Cynefin Framework can be seen as a model used to describe problems, situations and systems, which provides a typology of contexts. These typologies are useful as a guide to provide heuristics around which contextually appropriate explanations and/or solutions for specific situations may be constructed.

The four domains of the Cynefin Framework (Snowden & Boone, 2007) that apply to leaders and performance are:

  • Simple (Best Practice) – in the Simple domain, the relationship between cause and effect is clearly understood. The facts of the situation are assessed, categorised, and then a response based on established (best) practice is executed.
  • Complicated (Good Practice) – in the Complicated domain, the relationship between cause and effect is not necessarily well understood and requires the help of expert analysis. Several options are investigated, expert advice taken into consideration, and then a response based on the analysis is determined.
  • Complex (Emergent Practice) – in the Complex domain, the relationship between cause and effect cannot be immediately understood, and often only retrospection reveals the inter-relationships between cause and effect. Several ideas are tested to see if they helped the situation; if they did they are amplified, if not they are dampened and other ideas are tested.
  • Chaotic (Novel Practice) – in the Chaotic domain, there is no relationship between cause and effect; a good example of a chaotic situation would be a fire, where one’s first reaction should be to run for safety. Ad-hoc urgent decisions to stabilise the situation are the first priority, after which the next step can be determined.

The Cognitive Edge approach highlight the importance of recognising that multiple perspectives exist within groups however homogeneous in appearance. The ability to draw out these varying perspectives, and provide a visualisation of these for effective comparisons of similarities and contrasts provides managers with cultural-navigational skills. The framework allows people to differentiate the perspectives and place them in the appropriate context, and to react to the context in the proper way. In the absence of contextual differentiation, people will do what is comfortable rather than what is appropriate.

Rudyard Kipling’s “… And the Butterfly Stamped” (1902) is an excellent illustration od the importance of recognising the influence of multiple perspectives.The story, a classic ‘he-said, she-said’, establishes the reality of the existence of multiple perspectives and illustrates how a wise person who understands these nuances can manipulate them for their own benevolent or nefarious purposes. Likewise, for managers and decision-makers, learning how to gather or observe multiple perspectives can provide critical advantages for strategic planning.

References

Kipling, R. (1902). ‘The Butterfly That Stamped’. Just So Stories. Retrieved from http://www.gutenberg.org/files/2781/2781-h/2781-h.htm#2H_4_0012

MacIntyre, A. C. (1981). 15. After virtue: a study in moral theory (p. 216). Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press.

Snowden, D. & Boone, M. (2007). ‘A Leader’s Framework for Decision Making’. Harvard Business Review, November 2007. Retrieved from http://hbr.org/2007/11/a-leaders-framework-for-decision-making/ar/1

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