Cynefin principles

The principles are the basis for everything, and Cynefin is not an exception. This is a summary of them:

Principle 1: Embrace messy coherence

The principle of messy coherence enables us to accommodate much diversity of approaches, methods and tools within Cynefin.

Language is an excellent example of messy coherence, or in other worlds coherent heterogeneity. We can accommodate differences within boundaries that ensure coherence. When the need arises, new words are invented spontaneously.

1.1. Playing in tension

Cynefin values coherence and difference, even though they are in tension. Too much coherence and things become too much homogeneous.

For instance, in large organizations, we can see frequently how they are driven to align the entire workforce under one single culture. This singular alignment is an extreme form of coherence. It strips away the diversity of a system to a point where resilience is compromised. On the other hand, too many cultures and conflicting goals in an organization will become incoherent and lead to fragmentation.

Applying the principle of of coherent heterogeneity, we can accept and value the diversity of localized sub-cultures, as long as they are coherent with the identity of the whole. The key here is that the difference is bounded or contained in such a way that it does not become incoherent or fragmented.

Cynefin uses this inherent tension as generative, creating space for the novelty to emerge.

1.2 Heuristics not rules

Designing rules assumes an ordered universe in which we can predict the outcome of a defined action and in which we can know the range of possible circumstances. Heuristics, on the other hand, provides more general guidance; they have a level of ambiguity which makes them more adaptable.

Heuristics are not the same thing as value or principle statements that are vague enough to be selectively interpreted, or rationalized, to justify different and contradictory actions. Heuristics within the bounds of common sense are not that ambiguous.

Heuristics are often associated with delegation of authority, while rules are about control. Both are right and both are wrong, it depends on the context.

1.3 Bounded applicability

Principle 2: Descriptive self-awareness & self discovery

“People are generally better persuaded by the reasons which they have themselves discovered than by those which have come into the mind of others”. Blaise Pascal

Cynefin approach entails creating the conditions that enables such awareness.

If you are a consultant, you likely resist the urge to analyze or prescribe. Instead, you focus on creating the conditions where the client becomes able to see and describe their current state differently and potentially know how to act. This principle is in a deep belief that we need to address epistemic injustice. For instance, mitigate the power imbalances and the unfairness that accompany knowledge.

2.1 Beware of unintended consequences

2.2 Be a mirror not an expert

Principle 3: Timing & Flow

3.1 Time and cadence

3.2 Flow and patterns

3.3 Liminality

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