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What is Cynefin Framework?

Cynefin (pronounced "kuh-nev-in") is a framework for understanding and making decisions in complex, uncertain, and rapidly changing environments. Developed by Dave Snowden, a Welsh researcher and consultant, the Cynefin framework helps individuals and organizations navigate complexity and make sense of their world.

The framework uses a Welsh word with no direct English translation, but it is often described as embodying a sense of place, familiarity, or habitat. This sense of "place" is linked to the idea that our environment profoundly influences our thoughts and actions. By understanding the cultural and historical factors that shape a particular place, we can better appreciate the complex web of relationships that shape our lives.

In this sense, Cynefin is a lens for exploring the complex interplay between individuals, communities, and their environments. By recognizing how our surroundings shape our perceptions and experiences, we can become more attuned to the nuances of our world and more effective agents of change. Perhaps this is why the framework's creator chose this particular word to capture the essence of his approach.

The framework is a sense-making model to help individuals and organizations understand the complexity of a given situation and make more informed decisions. It arranges a situation or problem into five conceptual places: Simple, Complicated, Complex, Chaotic, and Confusion:

  • Clear: Cause-and-effect relationships are clear and solutions can be determined through best practices or standard operating procedures.

  • Complicated: Multiple possible solutions exist, but expert analysis and technical knowledge are required to determine the best option.

  • Complex: Cause-and-effect relationships are not always clear, and outcomes may be unpredictable. Experimentation, collaboration, and emergence are key approaches to problem-solving.

  • Chaotic: Immediate action is necessary to stabilize the situation, and there is no clear cause-and-effect relationship. Crisis management and rapid response are vital approaches in this domain.

  • Confusion: Formerly called "Disorder," it is unclear which other domains the problem falls into. More data is necessary to move the problem into one of the other domains.

By understanding the context and complexity of a given situation, we can better determine the appropriate course of action, whether it be through established best practices or a more experimental and adaptive approach.

The framework can help leaders to avoid common mistakes, such as assuming that a problem is simple when it is complex or failing to recognize the need for rapid action in a chaotic situation. Using the framework, leaders can make more informed decisions and take a more informed and strategic approach to problem-solving, leading to better outcomes for their organizations and stakeholders.

Today, the Cynefin framework is used in various industries, including healthcare, finance, and government, to help individuals and organizations make better decisions in complex and uncertain situations.

Learn more...


Dave Snowden's Children's Party Video talking about the diffrent domains


Book on Cynefin

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