Keep It Simple, Stupid
The Cynefin Model and the human condition.
K-I-S-S. It’s a pneumonic device. Crude but effective, it helps us remember to keep things manageable. But, as we all know, many times the ease or difficulty of a situation is not up to us. Hence, the Cynefin model.
Cynefin is a model attributed to IBM that was designed to help managers deal with complexity in making decisions. Its development relied on research from a number of different applications and disciplines, including science, systems, network, psychology and learning theories, and is sometimes referred to as a “sense-making device.” The model breaks situations into five categories—simple, complicated, complex, chaotic, and disorder.
Simple is the most rational, straight-forward situation and is usually solved by “best practices.” There is a clear cause and effect and the situation has been encountered so often that applying a proven rule, or best practice, will resolve the situation. Think of it as following a recipe. These resolutions have become so common and predictable that, within the realm of Cynefin modeling, they are more commonly referred to as “obvious” than “simple.”
Complicated situations require more analysis of cause and effect. It is said that there can be a range of “right answers” and the proper decision calls for experience and judgment. Think of following a traditional recipe for dinner guests with dietary restrictions.
Complex, one of the most interesting of the “domains,” has no right answer. The cause and effect of the situation can only be determined in retrospect and includes the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, meaning the very actions of the manager to resolve the situation “change the situation in unpredictable ways.” The key is to allow situations to unfold and “trust your gut” to recognize the patterns that will lead to the appropriate response. Think of this as preparing a dish without a recipe.
For chaotic and disorder, the situations are so confused and unclear that managers are advised to quickly dissect the situation and act on those elements that they can recognize. In these situations there is no time to analyze the situation as a whole. “Make little steps you know will succeed.” The September 11 attacks are offered as an example.
Even with this handy model, you can imagine that these situations have much to do with, or are further complicated by, human perspective. Take, for example, Derek Sivers’ comments on running from a Tim Ferriss podcast:
“But if you talk with people that love running, they’ll say, ‘Yeah! You just pop out for a quick run.’ And if you ask them about the steps involved, they’ll say, ‘There’s just one. You just run.’”
As Alex Gustafson writes on a blog about fitness in March 2016, “I love this example Derek uses to explain how humans tend to think of simple vs. complicated the same way they think of easy vs. hard. People who hate running can list off all the steps of running and why each one is a huge pain. People who love running think nothing could be simpler.”
As Charles Mingus said, “Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.” So, what’s the simplest way to find out what quality professionals and organizations will be spending their budgets on in the coming year? Ask them! And that’s exactly what Quality did. Check out “Making Quality a Priority” and the results of our 17th Annual Spending Survey in the pages of this month’s Quality.
Enjoy and thanks for reading!