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Dave Snowden

Cynefin St David’s Day 2020 (1 of 5)

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Screenshot 2020 03 01 at 07 35On St David’s Day last year, I started a five-part series of posts to update the Cynefin Framework, all illustrated by pictures of the mountains of Eryri, or Snowdonia if you want to use the Saxon which derives from Snow Dun, or snow hill.  For followers of this blog you will know those mountains are a key part of my own Cynefin; a sense of multiple belongings.  The first post discussed the shift from simple to obvious and (after a six-week gap) the second post explained the shift from Emergent practice to Exaptive discovery. In the third post I brought together a series of blogs and presentations to explain the introduction of liminality and then in the fourth I related that to Cynefin Dynamics. The final post brought in the whole known-unknown-unknowable language which I started working with in the 1980s but abandoned for a period following February 2002 for obvious reasons!  My own work had been in response to Johari windows and I will return to that in more detail later this year.

There was an additional post inserted between four and five that was a little different, not only in its not using a mountain picture but in its focus on an application of Cynefin to the issue of control in organisations.  A post of particular relevance to the recent trolling on social media which I will reference in a future post in this series.  I need to develop the theme of control and power over the next few months so expect me to return to it.

So having done that last year, and made the series easy to find by starting in on St David’s Day I have decided to repeat the process this year, and possibly in future years to provide a source for the latest thinking and versions of Cynefin.  Aside from being the Welsh National Day it is also the anniversary of my Mother’s death in the early hours of 1st March 2004, ten days after my Father’s death and a month before my 50th Birthday and early retirement from IBM.  So it is a special day from many perspectives.  St David himself (as Chris Bolton reminded me this morning) had an understanding of complexity.  His last sermon before he died contained the worlds Gwnewch y pethau bychain which means ‘Do the little things’ and is still a well-known phrase in Wales and is entirely apposite to complexity thinking.  He is the patron Saint of Wales and it is a curious fact that we are only nation of the four which exist on the British Isles whose patron saint is a native.  Patrick was Welsh, Andrew was the first called Apostle from Galilee while George (also of Lydda) was a Cappadocian Greek.

So I have rambled a bit to set the context for this and I’m not sure exactly how many posts there will be.  But I promise to keep them in sequence this time, 2019 had two interruptions.  I’ll also go back and edit the posts when I have finished the series to get the numbers right.  They will all have mountain pictures …

Getting to the meat …

So in this first post, I want to address two changes in Cynefin and I want to make it clear this are not yet firm, but likely.  Given the immanence of The Green Book of Cynefin I need to settle names for a period of time.  If you want to be involved in the discussion of the content of that by the way you need to join the Cognitive Edge Haunt and my thanks for all the contributions so far.

The change from Obvious to Clear

This has long been an objective of my co-author Mary Boone and her advocacy in Boston last year persuaded me to try it.  The essence of this domain is that the relationship between cause and effect not only exists but its nature and consequential actions are self-evident to any reasonable person.  It contrasts with the Complicated Domain where it is not self-evident to the decision-maker and we have to deploy expertise or analysis.  Stephan Eggermont (@StOnSoftware)expressed this well in a recent tweet where he said “Cynefin uses a clear separation. A best practice doesn’t need experts, it is obvious. If you have to think about it, we can agree on a good practice.”  The separation is about human perception and knowledge so it is shown in a lighter shade of grey (couldn’t resist that) as unlike the other boundaries in Cynefin it does not represent a phase shift.

My reason for resisting it over the last few years was in part that having four ‘C’s seemed a little contrived.  But on reflection, I think that maybe no bad thing and clear seems a better word than obvious in describing what the state of what action we should take.  It is clear what we should do is better than it is obvious what we should do but it is still marginal so interested in what other people think. To date, this change seems to be going down well but I am only now testing it on a wider audience

The change from disordered to A/C

The Boston discussion moved on from four ‘C’s to the possibility of a fifth namely Confused.  I was more worried about this and resisted it for longer but testing seems to reveal that it is considered better as it makes the distinction with Chaos clearer and is also a word people readily understand without explanation.  Now one of the things I was pleased with when I created the liminal version is that it resolves a long-standing issue with the un-ordered domain which has two aspects: a legitimate confusion to allow transition or the negative aspect – dazed and confused with no comprehension of which domain you are in.   I still wasn’t happy with this and was thinking about it this morning when fortuitously John Van Breda of Stellenbosch University wrote:

I facilitated the 4 Points Contextualisation exercise again this week with a group of prospective MAs and whilst going through the exercise and seeing that most of the 4 small groups were trying to ‘clear’ the Disorder domain from any issues, I suddenly realized what / why this was happening and in trying to explain to them that it is ok to have unresolved issues (in tension) in this domain, it suddenly occurred to me that there is possibly a connection between the disorder domain and Derrida’s notion of Aporia. Not sure whether you’re familiar with this concept, very difficult to translate into Eng., but some translations suggest something like ‘impasse’ or ‘puzzlement’. What, I think, Derrida had in mind with this concept of his was a kind of state of mind where we embrace contradictions (complexity?), rather than trying to avoid it or trying to enforce these contradictions into neat / tidy / integrated solutions.

Now, this brought back a flood of memories and I will expand on it in the next post in this series.  I first came across it when I was taught rhetoric but it has many meanings including the idea of an apparently insoluble puzzle or paradox.  Hence the use of A/C to contrast the creation of paradox to allow new meaning and transition to contract with true confusion.  A/C is a convenient shorthand that fits the drawing as well and allows for levels of discussion and has its own meanings AC/DC for one.  If you are just using the non-liminal version of Cynefin it is just Confused, add liminality and it is Aporetic or Confused and I have a whole new dimension to the fifth and all too often neglected domain of Cynefin.

The picture is from my New Year’s Day walk last year and shows the view over Ceredigion Bay from the initial climb up Cnicht

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