Cynefin and Standard+Case

Here is a picture of Cynefin as I conceive it, and its relationship to Standard+Case, my sense-making approach.

Everything in dark blue is from Cynefin, the rest is me.

Based on the work of Dave Snowden and the Cynefin framework.
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More discussion of common questions about it here

and extensive discussion of complex systems and this diagram here: all the world is complex!

and click here for an extract (PDF) from an early revision of the S+C book, talking about how S+C relates to Cynefin.

Snowden himself cites this diagram (!) when explaining the more recent Liminal version of Cynefin.

(Find Dave Snowden on YouTube and blow your mind)

Here is another 3D model that this one contributed to.

Here is a brief summary of S+C from our book The Agile Manager


Cynefin is a generalised model for dealing with situations, in any context anywhere. It describes five states we are in when dealing with a situation :
● clear: we know how to respond
● complicated: knowable, but requires expertise to respond.
● complex: unknown, requiring the development of new knowledge and expertise to respond.
● chaotic: unknowable, beyond our ability to learn.
● aporetic/confused: we don’t know where we are.


Standard+Case is our own contribution to the field, conceived by Rob in 2010. It can be thought of as a simpler model than Cynefin. Standard+Case is a method for categorising and resolving any sort of transactional work. You can only industrialise that which you can standardise, i.e. make known: described, predictable, and repeatable. Only some of the world can be standardised. Some situations will always be unfamiliar due to change, or unpredictable due to complexity. Standard+Case is a synthesis of our conventional “standard” process-centric approaches to responding, with Case Management, a discipline well-known in industry sectors such as health, social work, law, and policing.
Note the tiny “automation” slice in the top right corner of the above diagram. We can (currently) only automate that which is defined and repeatable. We must standardise to automate. Automation only removes toil and drudgery, not other work.

Also note the step down from chaotic to complex, which many people find counter-intuitive. The vertical axis is “negentropy”: energy, order. It takes energy to make a system chaotic, it settles into complex. Dave Snowden himself made this improvement to the picture. He approved of this 3D view of Cynefin.