Use this framework to understand what kind of problem you are facing and what kinds of solutions would be useful. Some issues are straightforward and linear (to the right of the Cynefin wheel) – crack on and solve the situation yourself or use an expert. But be careful – thinking that something is clear and simple when it isn’t (thinking that a petrol fire is a regular one and applying the simple solution of spraying water on it, causing it to erupt) may cause a catastrophic rupture and fall off the edge into chaos. And in chaos you simply take your chances.

Most importantly, know the difference between complex and complicated, the two domains on top. Applying complicated solutions to complex problems will blow up in your face. In the complex domain, in that thicket of brambles where everything affects everything, where chain reactions cascade into new steady states, you need to proceed gradually. You try an intervention, you see what the effect is on the whole system, adjust, intervene, monitor. If the complicated domain is a car engine, the complex domain is the frazzled driver of the car goaded by the passenger whilst blood sugar is low and one of the kids in the back is choking on an apple whilst the other one sings a lullaby. The complicated domain describes how to hit Putin centre mass, the complex domain is where we change his mind. Note that a complex system can become structured enough that we can let go of continually checking and adapting our ways of engaging with it – it has settled into complicated. Moving clockwise makes life so easy! And we love it, it reduces the cognitive load – we can just follow the rules! But if we move too soon, we will be ineffective or even break the system into chaos.

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© Niklas Serning