Making Sense of Cynefin
Lead Coach and Facilitator at Choose Leadership | Working with Purpose Driven Leaders and Organisations
Book Cynefin

The Cynefin Framework, developed by David Snowden, outlines four different domains of cause and effect relationships, and asserts that each of these different contexts requires different approaches to sense-  and decision-making.

What to expect from the resource.

If you are looking for a deep dive into complexity theory, then this book is not for you. If you want a fuller understanding of its impact in the world, it is well worth the read.

“Cynefin: Weaving Sense-making into the Fabric of the World” is a wonderful companion text for anyone interested in a richer understanding of how Cynefin has evolved since its first foray into the world in 1999. What’s more, different practitioners share how they have made use of and experienced the framework, and David Snowden, if truth be told.

Some reviewers of the book have decried the substitution of a deeper theoretical exposition of Cynefin with 40 chapters filled with writers sharing their stories of making use of the framework in the world. A key message of Cynefin, in my understanding, is the need for people working in organisations to better apprehend the narratives which inform their sense- and decision-making.

What we love about it.

With over 47 contributors, the book is very easily dipped in and out of. You don’t need to read it in sequence, and the editors have helpfully labelled each chapter by:

  • Chronology (how long each author has been involved with Cynefin)
  • Type of article (narrative or theoretical)
  • Cynefin Principle (embracing messy coherence; descriptive self-awareness and self-discovery; timing and flow)

We loved Chris Corrigan’s experiential learning exercises to give readers an embodied experience of the framework. It is Kolb brought alive: give people an experience, allow them to reflect on it, encourage them to make some observations and comparisons, and perhaps some tentative conclusions about what they think it’s all about, before considering how they might use the idea in the world. Rinse and repeat for all five domains.

We also loved the art of Sue Borchardt, whose images enhance the words of each contributor. Her work in this book underlines the importance of recognising that we think in images, not in text or abstract concepts.

This book deepened my understanding of Cynefin and has enriched my thinking, coaching and facilitation.

Why it matters to leadership in organisations.

We face many wicked problems today – and this book supports practitioners, and leadership developers, with insights to better make sense of the world around them before moving into action. It supports leaders, managers, and non-managers to get better at diagnosing whether they are in the domain of the clear, complicated, complex, or chaotic. This matters, because before you go anywhere, you must know where you are starting from. You need to appreciate where you are in order to gain clarity about the path you need to pursue, whether it be best, good, emergent or novel practice.

Cynefin is not a silver bullet. But it will allow you and your team to better make sense of the world around you and to act in a manner best suited to what you discover.

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