There is a well-known saying, that “to the person with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” In other words, our view of things is significantly narrowed by the limits of what we know or understand. To this I’d add a corollary: “to the person who only knows the hammer and nail, anything they don’t understand may seem useless.”
In the original post above, there is a critique of the Cynefin framework, largely popularized by Dave Snowden, and the subject of the award-winning HBR article from 2007 that Dave wrote with Mary Boone. Through the lens of my own knowledge and understanding of Cynefin, I felt that the original post above, is significantly flawed. I believe there are a number of points made by Tom that are incorrect, and bear further explanation and exploration. Below are a few of my own points on Tom’s post, and the Cynefin framework:
1) Tom writes that the “core purpose” of Cynefin is sense-making in “complex contexts.” this is not my understanding. Rather, it seems to me that Cynefin describes all possible domains in which problems/challenges/issues may appear in organizational life. The framework’s “purpose” appears intended to help us understand the differences in the ways that patterns and knowing emerge in each domain. From this, we can respond with our own patterns of inquiry, analysis, and action, that are best-suited to the dynamics of the domain we are facing. the “core purpose” then, applies to our interaction with all domains, not just “complex contexts.”
2)Tom describes the methods of Cynefin as mainly being “for narrative enquiry and the like.” As I note above, I believe a plain reading of the HBR article and other Cynefin info, suggest that Cynefin is intended to help us not only inquire and understand, but to understand what is happening in the context of a given domain’s unique patterns/dynamics, and thereby, take action that has a better chance of achieving our objectives.
3) Tom writes that the Cynefin methods are only available to those who take dave Snowden’s course. I have not yet taken the Cognitive edge accreditation course, but it is clear from the Cognitive Edge website that the methods of its practitioners are open source. There is a library of these with detailed application notes, on the Cognitive Edge website: http://www.cognitive-edge.com/method.php
4) Tom notes that most people on viewing the Cynefin diagram, only “see two axis..” I don’t have data on this, and it may be true. But my understanding of Cynefin again implies that these five domains are all present in the world, and that under changing conditions, we may find ourselves moving from one to another. Cynefin then, would appear to be a framework for viewing a muliti-dimensional and dynamic reality.
5) Tom dimisses the small “squiggle” at the center bottom of the Cynefin diagram. He admits he doesn’t recall what it represents. I believe this is intended to portray a “fold” or Cusp. That is, the way that under certain change conditions, we can suddenly and significantly go right over the edge from a simple to chaotic domain. As I understand it, this sort of cusp catastrophe dynamic is not present in the other domain boundaries.
While I am new to the concepts and methods of enterprise architecture, I have been working with concepts and methods based in complex systems dynamics for over 12 years. No framework is perfect, or necessarily useful in every situation. But I believe that the Cynefin framework relates to universal organizational dynamics, and is not as constrained and limited in the ways that Tom suggests. I look forward to further reply and dialogue on these matters. Thank you!