Agile Decision Making in the New Habitat: The Cynefin Framework

Agile Decision Making in the New Habitat:  The Cynefin Framework
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 Our research with The VUCA Report reveals that the most challenging element of agility which most organizations struggle with is decision making:  New Research Study Begins to Reveal the Criticality of Agile-Decision-Making (and that Most Organizations Struggle with the Challenge).

  • It really is the essence of our work with startups to global corporations and small-to-medium-sized-businesses (SMBs) in particular.  Read more blogs on Agile Decision Making.
  • We help them understand an operating system framework for more agile-decision-making:  an AGILITY Operating System (AOS)
  • To be in different modes of Innovation simultaneously.

Which gets harder and harder as the cone of uncertainty/VUCA expands, creating a larger and larger zone of the Unexpected, Unknowable, Unpredictable, Unplannable and Uncontrollable and a smaller and smaller zone of the Expected, Knowable, Predictable, Plannable and Controllable!  That’s our new habitat!


In this new reality we must more clearly differentiate the context we are in and adjust our decision-making and innovation mode accordingly, for agility.

One of the best models to differentiate these different contexts/domains for decision-making and innovation is the Cynefin Framework (pronounced Kuh-Ne-Vin) from Dave Snowden of Cognitive Edge (initially developed when he was with IBM)


See the great introductory video below on Cynefin from author Dave Snowden.  Headlines from me are:

  • Cynefin (Kuh-Ne-Vin):  habitat/place – place of multiple belongings
  • 3 Basic Categories of Systems:  Ordered Systems, Complex Systems, Chaotic Systems.
  • The Central Category is called Disorder.
  • Dividing Order into 2, Simple and Complicated.
  • In the complex quadrant we must conduct safe-fail experiments, amplify those that work, dampen those that don’t and allowing for emergence.
  • Dependent on which domain (quadrant of the framework) you are in you should think and act differently rather than a one-size fits all approach.
  • The central space of disorder is the space of not knowing which of these domains you are in and that’s where we are most of the time and the trouble is we will interpret the situation according to our personal preference for thinking and action and how we have been conditioned by our experiences:
    • A failure of process (categorization of the best practice process required) – Simple quadrant
    • A failure of analysis (expert analysis of good practice required) – Complicated quadrant
    • A failure of amassing diverse  teams (collaborative sensing and experimentation with emergent practice) – Complex quadrant
    • A failure of assigning a single point command person (telling everyone what to do improvising new and novel practices) – Chaotic quadrant
  • The Simple/Chaotic boundary deserves special attention, with a complacent zone between simple and chaotic, and you can fall over the edge of the cliff!
  • Recognize the different systems to analyze the domain we are in to use the appropriate method for the appropriate domain.

Also, find more resources here:

About Mike Richardson

Agility-Facilitator/Mentor/Coach; Agility-Author/Speaker; Agility-Board-Member/Chairman. All-round Agility Activist in everything I do, every day, everywhere, in every way. Provocative, Profound, Practical. At Eye-Level. With Love/Hate!

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