Estimated reading time: 2 minutes, 34 seconds

I’m so excited that you’re interested in Cynefin because I want to geek out about this. Thanks for the invitation to do so on your blog. I’m sure by now you are very familiar with the various graphic representations of the framework. In the foundations course I took with Cognitive Edge last year they walked us through an introductory activity that demonstrated how they build a Cynefin model contexualized to a given system.

I was working with a table team of folks from Boeing and Washington state government, so we needed a system we all had experience with. They asked us to think of a time we had experience with needing health care and all the decisions that went into care and treatment. We wrote the decisions as “story fragments” on sticky notes, jotting things like “got a second opinion,” “chose my doctor based on a recommendation,” “decided to discontinue use of steroid.” When we had a table full of sticky notes, they gave us a blank piece of chart paper with a simple categorization statement on each corner.* The bottom right corner, the simple domain, was something like, “specific rules or instructions had to be followed.” The top right corner, the complicated domain, was something like, “had to consult experts or review sets of good practices.” The top left corner, the complex domain, was, “had to experiment or try a few things to see what worked.” The final corner, the bottom left, represented the chaotic domain where we “had to make decisions to manage a crisis.”

The paper was still blank at this point because the last step of this activity was to create an authentic Cynefin Framework by stringing yarn between the different domains based on the stories that landed in each quadrant of the paper. To get to that point we had to take all of our sticky notes and put them in somewhere on the paper, with the fragments that were the clearest examples of each domain going in the extreme corners and the fragments we were unsure how to place landing in the center of the paper, which would represent disorder when the model was finished.

Anyway, I could have sworn I took a picture of our model but apparently I did some housecleaning in Google photos and deleted it– whoops. What I do have is the method paper behind the activity, which I will send you. The health care example was a great way to start for us because none of us were talking about our own areas of expertise, which helped us think about the framework without our biases coming into play. This simple activity, which may have taken us 90 minutes by the time we strung our yarn on the paper, hung our charts on the wall, and gallery walked the room, is one way Cognitive Edge helps develop models of systems with various organizations. The idea is that you can’t create a model of a human system using technology (or any other means really) because the only model of the system is the system itself due to the complexity of human systems. Hence the need for this type of sensemaking activity.

*On the method paper I’m sending you this key part is called “define a number of relevant heuristics and an exemplar story for each sub-domain to define that sub-domain for the issue at hand.”