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Cynefin: Welsh word for the place of multiple belonging

Domains
Simple
•Cause and effect relationships easily identified
•Stable, repeatable conditions
•Known solutions
•Process re-engineering
•Best practices
Methodology: Sense making > categorize > respond

Complicated
•Cause and effect relationships obscure, complicated
•Realm of expert advice
• Multiple potential solutions requiring domain expertise
• practices
Methodology: Sense > analyze > respond

Complex
•Cause and effect relationships unknown, unpredictable
•Co-evolution (multiple variables influencing each other’s development)
•Emergent patterns
•Emergent practice
Methodology: Probe > sense making > respond

Chaotic
•No recognizable cause and effect relationships
•No rule, no order
•Riot and war, examples
•Response: move situation to another domain
•Novel practice
Methodology: Act > sense > respond

Disorder
•The default point of perspective, the observers typical orientation to problem solving (could be simple, complicated, complex)
•If the observer lacks self-awareness, the default orientation will be used in inappropriate domains, a mismatch of problems and solutions

Rotating clockwise around the Cynefin framework through increasing complexity (simple, complicated, complex) arrives at chaotic; rotating counter-clockwise through decreasing complexity (complex, complicated, simple) arrives at chaotic.

The boundary between simple and chaotic (adjoining domains) is considered a cliff; it’s easy to slip over the edge from the simple, stable, predictable to wildly out-of-control. The simple domain is the most dangerous because it’s the least threatening but in close proximity to the most threatening.

Probing emergent patterns in the complex domain: Safe fail rather than fail safe; experiments designed to probe reality incrementally; failure acceptable, even expected, rather than catastrophic.
Safe fail methodology: Create a hypothesis of the emergent pattern; define a success metric for the experiment; if the experiment achieves or exceeds the success metric, amplify the behavior; if it fails the success metric, dampen the behavior. Continue probing.

Culture is the human response to complexity; solutions/patterns first emerge as anecdotes (story telling). Gathering stories (cultural anthropology) becomes a tool for understanding emergent patterns, making sense of experience.

Use the Cynefin framework for mapping solutions to the appropriate domain and strategic planning. Example, group of people telling stories about their common experience; use post it notes (snippets) to capture significance of story; post notes on Cynefin framework in appropriate domain; cluster similar complex issues together. (Those clusters are a good environment for World Café.) Design safe fail probes to explore validity of stories and identify emerging patterns.

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