Dave Snowden

Cynefin St David’s Day 2019 (4 of 5)

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Screenshot 2019 04 20 at 21 38 14The introduction of liminality to Cynefin necessitated a slight rethinking of the main dynamics within Cynefin.  To be clear multiple dynamics are possible but over the years these have emerged as the dominant ones.   As the name implies the dynamics in Cynefin are all about movement between domains.  Such movement can be achieved by shifting the nature of the constraints – for example using heuristics (a type of enabling constraint) allows for emergent behaviour while rules (a type of governing constraint) in effect create a boundary condition that limits the actors an the context to a greater degree.  Constraint mapping, its representation in Cynefin and links to the whole known-unknown-unknowable matrix will form my final post in this series tomorrow.

Key to Cynefin is the idea that no domain – with the exception of inauthentic disorder – is either right or wrong, it just is.  I’ve seen too many people fall into the trap of saying something along the lines of my method is complex, theirs is merely complicated  and that goes along with un unthought demonisation of Taylorism that in many ways showed more respect for people that the current popular forms of systems thinking.   Domains have different qualities and we need to understand that and act accordingly.  If we want a behaviour or outcome which is not authentic to the domain then we first have to shift the context – move between domains to allow that to be possible.

Dynamics also link to ideas of resilience and sustainability.   Think back to the energy gradients of yesterdays post and you can see that keeping things in the complex domain, shifting them to complicated is hard but if you do, then and only then can you fully exploit what you have created and critical scale by aggregation or repetition.   In the complex domain scaling is only achieved by decomposition and recombination at an optimal level of granularity which means there is a degree of constant lovely, retrospectively coherence but not predictable.  

Those familiar with the old dynamic framework will see the differences with the older representation and they rest on an inflection point in the liminal area of disorder, the gamma point above.  I’m still not sure on aspects of this and its a work in progress.   But to get there lets describe the four dynamics shown above.

  1. The most stable pattern (blue) is the move between complex and complicated, and if needed back again.  Parallel safe-to-fail experiments in the complex domain reveal a way forward.  Iterations in the liminal domain prove that stabilisation is possible and we shift to the complicated domain.  The reason we know this is possible is that the imposition of constraints creates repeatability – if it doesn’t: stay liminal.  What most people forget is that when you have stabilised it you need to periodically check that this is still the case.  If it isn’t then you cycle back in the complex and start the experiments again – and you do start them again you go back into complex not liminal complex-complicated.
  2. If you get long term stabilisation (also blue) then, and only then can you shift it into the obvious domain.  But you make sure you do so with some flexibility in order to avoid the border with chaos.  It’s the beta inflection  point on the map and it carries a danger as there are three options.  It may be stable and you can shift, you may realise when you check (and double check) that this is not the case – variations and exceptions are increasing  in which case you return to complex.  The real danger is that you don’t realise there and then and by the time you realise a smooth transtition is not possible so ….
  3. … you shift the red dynamic, also down as a shallow dive into chaos.  This is a last ditch recover at the delta inflection point. You’ve allowed the culture to develop immunity to the constraints so that they appear to work but in practice they only do so because the informal networks and practices have developed work arounds.  At this point you need some type of radical disruption although a double check at inflection point gamma may reduce the severity of this need and allow you to move directly to blue.
  4. Finally with have what I called the grazing dynamic where the situation is highly fluid and any exit from disorder is not possible.  The best you can achieve are temporary stable patters in the liminal area between complex and complicated – more over slightly deeper dives into chaos are needed to create constant novelty.

Now there is more work to do here – particularly on the inflection points but for the purpose of this update that’s it!   Final post tomorrow.



Banner picture was taken between Glyder Fach and Glider Fawr shortly after the scramble up Y Gribbin