Cynefin is situational

Cynefin is situational, it is for sense-making. It says as much about what we know as what is happening. Eg reality is never Confused, it knows.

The situation can change from moment to moment. People mistakenly use Cynefin – or similar models – as a model of SYSTEMS. It’s not. The system is always a Complex Adaptive System. Sense-making describes what we currently understand about it.

The moment you model it as Clear or Complicated and assume it is going to stay that way, you position yourself for failure, unprepared the moment it topples over the edge into some other state.

There is no real-world system where agility and resilence are not the optimal capabilities over time. The collapse of the world’s JIT supply chains in the pandemic should have made that clear. You can induce local temporary bubbles of stability, predictability, efficiency, control. But avoid the hubris of thinking you can keep it that way. You better be ready for when you can’t.

The world is always complex. That is the substrate. We think of it in other ways, which Cynefin categorises, in order to make the thinking simpler. Especially we want to simplify so we can model and apply mathematics.

We invest energy to constrain the reality so that it actually behaves in Complicated and Clear ways. We use concrete and machinery, and controls and bureaucracy.

But the underlying potential of chaos and complexity never goes away. We ignore them at our peril.
For two reasons.
1) the situation can turn nasty at any moment. We must be ready. Robust technology and bureaucratic command are fragile. They can’t cope
2) thinking in complexity and chaos have positive potential, for innovation and breakthrough.

I’m all for 20th Century management in a local bubble of automation, but don’t make it the foundation of thought or organisation.  Companies can impose all the hierarchies they want and create temporary systems to try to make the world behave for a while, but entropy always wins, and Clear mechanisms fail.