Understanding complexity - The Cynefin framework
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Understanding complexity - The Cynefin framework


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A brief overview of the Cynefin framework, with discussion on complexity, and why it is important to understand how organisations work in order to implement change.

A brief overview of the Cynefin framework, with discussion on complexity, and why it is important to understand how organisations work in order to implement change.



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  • This is an inspiring and motivating presentation. Keith, you mention on slide 8 on emergence 'but humans are more complex'. Why? Is it because of emotional interactions? of hidden agenda? Of fluctuating needs and desires? of varying agenda and concepts of win-win situations? Also, do we have any chance of predicting emerging behavior? In football (soccer) stadium we see emerging wavy behaviors when a goal is scored like the pattern that emerges with flocking birds. Thanks again for your probing presentation
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  • Most interesting presentation on Cynefin. I wonder if the label of the central space is confusing here. In Dave’s works the space is mostly unlabeled. I feel that Shawn Callahan’s ’Unorder’ is a more useful term, as it is virtually impossible to distinguish Chaos from disorder.

    Isn’t the imperative ’Act-sense-respond’ pattern one of finding some measure of order in the random or utterly confusing set of signals that are the responses to our actions? 99% of people will apply some pattern, in other words, will rely on a cognitive bias to establish order, thus superstition, blindness, stereotypes, and so on. In my experience, it takes a very rare skill to be truly comfortable in living with disorder.
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  • John -

    Fair point - complex is complex! There are some details of the Cynefin model that I haven't included here, of course, but either way it is easy to delete that line, and leave the point as it is.
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  • Great summary, thanks! One modification - when I talk about this and want to move from Craig Reynolds' 'boids' to human systems, I introduce the concept of shifting identity. Yes, humans are more complex, but I found I lost people by saying that. 'Degrees of complexity? Where is that on Cynefin?' When I refer instead to things like shifting identities, global awareness, etc., it goes much more smoothly!
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Understanding complexity - The Cynefin framework Understanding complexity - The Cynefin framework Presentation Transcript

  • Understanding complex organisations: The Cynefin model Keith De La Rue
  • Why complexity theory?
    • “ One recent study of 40 companies found that 58% of change initiatives failed to reach their goals”
      • McKinsey Quarterly, 2002
    • We need to understand how organisations work, before we can effectively change them
    • Organisations now depend more on people
      • Complex, unpredictable, dynamic
      • Resistant to engineering
    • Change is only made possible by people
  • The Cynefin Framework
    • A way to look at the nature of organisations
    • An understanding of complexity
    • Tools to work with the environment
      • “Sensemaking”
    • Developed by David Snowden, Cognitive Edge
    • Welsh: “habitat, place”
      • Conveys the sense that we all have multiple pasts of which we are only partly aware: cultural, religious, geographic, tribal, etc
    View slide
    • Complex
      • Cause and effect coherent in retrospect, repeat accidentally – unpredictable
      • Frog
    • Complicated
      • Cause and effect separated over time & space, but repeat – analysable
      • Knowable
      • 747
    • Simple
      • Cause & effect relations repeatable & predictable
      • Known
      • Bicycle
    • Chaos
      • No cause and effect relationships generally perceivable
      • House on fire
    View slide
    • Complex
      • Multiple small and diverse interventions to create options
      • Probe-sense-respond
    • Complicated
      • Analytical techniques to determine facts and option range
      • Sense-analyse-respond
    • Simple
      • Standard processes with review cycles and clear measures
      • Sense-categorise-respond
    • Chaos
      • Single or multi actions to stabilise situations
      • Act-sense-respond
    • Complex
      • Informal
      • Emergence
      • Social Media
    • Complicated
      • Domain of experts
      • Good practice
      • 20 th Century
    • Simple
      • “ Business as usual”
      • Best practice
      • 19 th Century
    • Chaos
      • Novel
      • Crisis
      • Catastrophic change
      • Ordered
    Unordered Disorder
  • Organisations are complex
    • Dynamic, with rich interactions
    • Different people operating at different levels
    • Feedback
    • Non-linear, unpredictable
    • Emergent characteristics
      • Whole different to sum of parts
    • Small changes can have large impacts
    • History can make a difference
  • Emergence
    • Fly to the centre
    • Match speed
    • Avoid collision
    • (But humans are more complex)
  • Simple wisdom doesn’t apply
    • “ The definition of insanity is doing the same thing twice and expecting a different result”
      • In a complex environment, doing the same thing twice will give a different result
    • “ You can't fix what you can't measure”
      • You can intervene in a complex environment, even though you can’t measure it reliably
  • Further information
    • David Snowden, Cognitive Edge:
      • http://www.cognitive-edge.com/
    • Shawn Callahan, Anecdote:
      • http://www.anecdote.com.au/
    • Keith De La Rue, AcKnowledge Consulting:
      • http://acknowledgeconsulting.com