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Entries in complexity (1)


How to enhance innovation by managing complexity using the Cynefin Framework

Executives usually try to create ordered domains that are characterized by stability and clear cause-and-effect relationships. These simple contexts require straightforward management: assess the facts of the situation, categorize them, and then base your response on what you know, with established practice.

Most innovation challenges however, are in complex contexts, where straightforward management approaches do not properly fit. Wise executives tailor their behavior and decisions to fit the complexity of the circumstances they face.

The Cynefin framework helps you determine complex problems and situations. By matching your management approach to the context, you will be able to better facilitate innovation in your organization. Innovation requires switching from a fail-safe mindset to one based on safe-fail experimentation.

The Cynefin framework was originally developed in 1999 in the context of knowledge management and organizational strategy by Dave Snowden.

Main characteristics of a complex context:
  • Unpredictability
  • No right answers; emergent instructive patterns
  • Unknown unknowns
  • Many competing ideas
  • A need for creative and innovative approaches
Your job in a complex context:
  • Probe, sense, respond (see video for details)
  • Create environments and experiments that allow patterns to emerge
  • Increase levels of interaction and communication
  • Use methods that can help generate ideas:
    - Open up discussion (through workshops and large group sessions);
    - set barriers;
    - stimulate attractors;
    - encourage disagreement and diversity;
    - manage starting conditions and monitor for emergence
The original article on the Cynefin Framework is available on Harvard Business Review.