Tag: decision making

The Cynefin Framework

cynefin frmeworkWhat is it?

The Cynefin Framework is a useful model for describing complex systems and is particularly helpful when grappling with the complexity and ambiguity that often surrounds innovation. To do it justice requires many thousands of words but I have tried to provide a flavour so that readers can investigate further for themselves.

First of all it is a sense-making not a categorisation model i.e. our data already exists and our model is applied to make sense of the patterns that occur within it.

The model describes 3 types of systems – ordered (subdivided into simple and complicated), complex and chaotic.

What use is the framework?

For simple systems the relationship between cause and effect exists and is predictable. The decision making model is thus Sense, Categorize, Respond and we tend to apply best practice.

In complicated systems the relationship between cause and effect exists but is not self evident. Our decision making model is thus Sense, Analyze, Respond and we apply Good Practice. This is because we might need to employ expert advice and there may be several possibilities open to us not a single correct course of action. The big danger is to blindly employ Best Practice here.

In complex systems the relationship between cause and effect is only obvious with hindsight. The way forward is to conduct a series of experiments, to probe our system. Depending on their success or failure we will probe further and we will then develop emergent practice. We are effectively learning!

Chaotic systems are usually where we wish to be when we are innovating. There is no relationship between cause and effect. We are normally in control of these systems but such a system can be entered accidentally and we need to know how to tackle such an issue. Because we must act quickly in this unstable state our decision making model is Act, Sense, Respond.

How do we use the framework?

So how do we use this? Well depending on which type of system we are in we should think and make decisions in different ways. One size does not fit all and it should be obvious that such an approach is disastrous. Often we start off in the central ‘disorder’ region i.e. not actually knowing which state we are in. This often means we do not conduct any form of analysis and will act according to personal experience and preference.

The framework also suggests that we can move around between states.  This is true as boundaries are mostly smooth transitions except for the Simple/Chaos boundary. People working in simple (often bureaucratic) systems can become complacent and when their world becomes chaotic they suffer a rough ride as they change states. This transition has been likened to falling off a cliff!

Further reading is suggested for those serious about complexity and change, however it is a very useful tool for working out how you should be behaving as an organisation, and when it is safe to adopt best practice.

Business Creativity and Innovation – why aren’t more companies taking it seriously?

Business Creativity and Innovation – why aren’t more companies taking it seriously? Let’s face it, most of the economies around the world have been in deep trouble for a couple of years and the problems do not look like they are going to end soon. We have politicians talking about radical reforms, new beginnings and innovative policies and then at the bottom of the chain there is us, the businesses both large and small that the politicians are betting on to help dig us out of the mess.

A lot of companies are making the right noises and I have contact with many who state that they wish to run ‘innovation workshops’, kick off an ‘innovation programme’ or make their business more creative. They all seem to appreciate that taking some action will improve many HR issues such as intrinsic motivation, communications, and decision making to name a few. These businesses all claim to be looking to the future, to determine what the products and services of the future will look like and meet that challenge.

So senior managers, and above, are tackling strategic issues and seeking for the most effective tools to get the job done. Why is it then that when presented by a number of solid proposals that they do not go ahead? Mysteriously something comes up at the last minute, people cannot make the workshop, the cost is too high or best of all something more important has come up! What can be more important than the future of your company?

The worst offenders seem to be large multinational companies with a degree of financial inertia (maybe some cash in the bank and the ability to sit it out and see the competition wither) who elect to ride out the storm rather than steering around it. These companies need to be showing us the way and leading global recovery or else we are just going to be left with a handful of dinosaurs in sectors such as oil and gas, power generation and airlines.

So, my plea is, if the future really matters to your business then take Business Creativity and Innovation seriously and give it the time and funds that it deserves or you may not have a future.

Creative Leadership For Tough Times

Surely we just need good strong Leadership in tough times not ‘airy fairy’ Creative Leadership? If you share this view then I think we have our wires crossed already. Let me explain.

In the current economic climate we do need strong (or should I say bold) Leaders but traditional Leaders (and I include those who are up to date with such concepts as transformational and situational leadership here) often have a Leadership toolbox that is comprehensive but perhaps identical to those carried around by other Leaders. So if we all have the same tools and we all operate in the same marketplace then we still have a stalemate.

And now for the Creativity bit. I am not suggesting that our bold Leaders walk around with an armful of creative techniques and nothing else, just that they should supplement their Leadership toolbox with a selection of techniques that provide alternative ways of analysing and solving problems, decision making, planning and communicating. Leaders then have a larger repertoire of business tools at their disposal from which they can select the most appropriate and most effective.

But why are Creative techniques particularly good for the tough economic climate that we are now faced with? In short they can:

  • Provide competitive advantage as their usage often relies on tacit knowledge
  • Are more likely to unearth solutions that no one else has thought of or tried
  • Allow Leaders more time to focus on real business issues – these techniques can save time
  • Permit greater buy in from colleagues and employees and thus less resistance to change
  • Build intrinsic motivation amongst the workforce

Even in highly regulated industries such as Financial Services, Leaders can enhance their capability in this way. Remember it is only the outputs of your processes that may be regulated. Internally there are usually alternative ways of doing things!

Making Good Use Of Institutional Failings

Normally we tend to diagnose institutional failings and then combat them with remedial programmes that often dismantle and then rebuild certain aspects of the organisation. Note that these characteristics are independent of the individuals that work within the organisation.

A well publicised example of such a failing was the accusation of institutionalised racism that was leveled at the Metropolitan Police here in the UK. No one individual was accused of being racist but the structure, processes, distribution of power, expressions of vision and beliefs was deemed to be supportive of racism.

So what might some of the characteristics of an institutional failing be and how can they be used to help us? I have alluded to one or two already but here is a short list:

    • Strong beliefs and a mechanism for communicating them
    • Well or clearly defined structures and processes
    • Power centred on a few individuals
    • An active ‘grapevine’ for informal communications
    • Well aligned communications, trust and advice networks
    • High degree of focus (not necessarily concern for) on people

This is not an exhaustive list but is representative of many undesirable institutional failings. Our natural tendency is to remove such characteristics through one or more change programmes and possibly staff development of some sort. For a large organisation the changes must be far reaching, difficult to plan (and control) and of course expensive. Had we been looking at undesirable furniture or waste paper then we would automatically think of recycling. Why not recycle these unwanted organisational characteristics and use them for a positive purpose?

One possible idea might be to create ‘institutionalised creativity’, a type of creativity that is inbuilt and pervades every part of the organisation in such a way that employees do not consciously think about it. Lets make use of a strong beliefs system (but change the beliefs), take advantage of clearly defined structures (but turn them into looser frameworks), use the company grapevine (as part of this process), be focused (but change this slightly) and make use of the centres of power (but make these sponsors of creative or innovative behaviour).

Such a programme may not be easy, but is it better than turning a whole organisation upside down?

Futures – The future’s bright so how do we get there?

In a previous article some of the benefits of using Futures were outlined. But you would like to know how to benefit from Futures wouldn’t you?

The first stage is a huge information gathering exercise (remember the analogy of a ship’s wake, we need all of this information). At the same time there needs to be some degree of focus. We cannot just generate the answer to the question ‘What does the future look like?’ A more reasonable question might be ‘What does the market for personal computers look like in 2020?’ or ‘What will the requirements for transport infrastructure in Wales be in 2025?’

Once these areas have been identified we then begin to look at the drivers that affect these areas and existing trends that are already apparent. We also look a little further afield and scan the time horizon as far ahead as we can. All the time we gather information, taking care not to filter it too much as the ‘signals’ that we are looking for easily get lost in the ‘noise’ and we never know at the start how much weight (or credibility) to attribute to the information we are gathering.

At this point we have an idea of what we wish to look at and the various factors that might affect it. Now we add the questions, what if oil prices trebled or the population halved, working through a number of scenarios and seeing how this changes the future. Then we throw in the wildcards, who predicted 9/11 in the USA or the bombings in London? Who foresaw the so called credit crunch?

And how can we make this tangible at the end of the exercise? There are two main ways of examining strategy, observing the future from the present and working out how to get there and the most powerful version which is to look back towards the present from the future and describing how we got here. This is where our storytelling skills come into their own and we generate buy in.

We can predict the future up to 30 years ahead in order to inform strategy making and investment decisions for public and private sector bodies by using:


    • Information from expert groups
    • Widely available information
    • A number of carefully chosen scenarios
    • Both existing knowledge and by introducing wildcards
    • Storytelling and other creative techniques to facilitate information gathering and generating buy in


For further information on how Futures can be used to help your organisation please get in touch now.


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