Dave Snowden

The Simple Domain

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So moving on from yesterday we come to the Simple Domain.  I normally present this with a Gaping Void cartoon which says Boring and unsexy for a reason which certainly applies here.  It's not a bad domain per se, but then that is true of every Cynefin domain.   But it is a bit different from complicated and complex in that the line of coherence is treated differently.  Here its OK to move up and down towards the top right of the bottle, but the bottom left is the domain of complacently, of a sudden unexpected and precipitous collapse into chaos.

What matters in the simple domain is the nature of constraint enforcement and the attitudes of actors to that constraint, so those are our two dimensions:

  • Attitude of Actors ranges from complacent, through pragmatic to questioning.   That means from people who go along with the process regardless of its consequences, through those who will work with the process even if they disagree to those who constantly question it.
  • Compliance enforcement ranging from zombie like indifference to reality, through an evidence based approach to one which is more about a trade off between quality and time.  This area is of course under management control while attitude can only be influenced.

Given this the legitimate use of the space comes in top right from Complicated where again there is an overlap with the bottom left of the complicated domain model.   As something enters this domain domain we need to constantly question if the shift is correct.  If the subject of transition is still subject to change we should hold it in complicated, only if it not stable will it belong here.   If it does then it moves rapidly to the central area of best practice.  This means we are evidence based in enforcement and because of that evidence there is pragmatic acceptance of the application of constraints, the reduction of degrees of freedom. 

There all and any movement should stop.   If we move down to the point where the patterns of past success are breeding the possibility of future failure (my definition of complacency) while at the same time our enforcement of constrain is unbending  in nature (think sick sigma). 

Now Zombie like enforcement produces two responses, one good one bad:

  • The bad one is where the attitude is pragmatic, here people will find a way around the process which means failure is disguised and when it comes it is catastrophic.  That is gaming the system.  One famous IBM example when buying food for staff working late at night was banned, was using taxi receipts as an alternative.  For those who don't know, overtipping a taxi driver gets you a blank receipt. 
  • The good one, if you can use it, is when the attitude is questioning.  This is where you get the cynics who appear to be negative but are your best friend.  The reason they complain is because they care about the organisation, your customers etc.  So if you have a high degree of cynicism then its an early warning sign that process enforcement has gone too far and needs to be pulled back fast.   Your reaction here should be to listen and learn, not reject

If you are not in the zombie zone then there are less drastic strategies.  If the attitude is complacent but there is still an evidence based culture then showing those in charge of the process the impact of their rules on operational staff can work.  If its more a trade off then confronting them with evidence can also work.  To be honest these two zones are very similar; you change bureaucrats by placing them in a position where they have to live the consequences of their bureaucracy.


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