The Cynefin Framework

One of the most important leadership innovations of the last two decades is a model for assessing whether we are working with technical fixes or adaptive challenges. In the complex environment that we are experiencing, we can buy into the idea that everything is an adaptive challenge that requires an adaptive leadership approach. While we do face many adaptive challenges in organizational systems, we still have aspects of our institutional life that do not need to adapt, but just fixed so that they work better. So the key for me when something “isn’t working” is to discern whether to adapt to a new reality, or fix the process so that it works better within the current reality.

The Cynefin Framework developed by Dave Snowden is helpful to leaders with the need to discern this distinction. The framework approaches this issue from the perspective of thinking about whether a system is complicated or complex based on cause and effect relationships. Again, the key is to discern what kind of challenge/system is at work to discern the appropriate response.

Here is a video in which the creator of the framework explains it.  If you want to download a graphic of the framework, just google it – there are hundreds of examples. Or check out the wiki article about it.