It’s a Welsh word that is pronounced kun-ev-in and has no direct English translations, but there’s a sense of environment and connectedness to it. Dave Snowden is a Welshman, and this framework respects his perspective and heritage. The framework has many depictions, but at its heart, it’s a framework for making decisions – and, most importantly, understanding the constraints that drive how you make those decisions. Though the depiction of the framework is fundamentally a 2×2 grid, it speaks of three different kinds of domains: Ordered, Complex, and Chaotic. His more recent revisions include liminal areas consisting of Aporia and Confused (formerly known as Disorder), which separate the different sections of the grid.
Inside of the Ordered domain are two sub-categories. The first is Clear. In this category, there is little question about what should be done, what the constraints are, or how things should fit together. It’s the place of best practices. The second is Complicated. Here, the lines are less well drawn but the rules are still consistent, even if they’re not all completely known, understood, and internalized. This is the land of good practices – that is, things that we’ve seen work before.
Inside of the Ordered domain, the constraints are fixed or governing constraints. They feel as if they don’t move or that they move so slowly it’s possible to find a way to get consistent results. This is distinctly different than the next domain, where the constraints become enabling.
Inside of the Complex domain, the rules are unknown, so it’s impossible to develop good or best practices. Instead, when in the Complex domain, the goal is to leverage techniques that have worked in other places and apply them to the challenge to see if they can work.
Through trial and error, it’s possible to discover more about the Complex domain and eventually recognize which constraints don’t move, so you can lean on them in your testing of ideas.
In the Chaotic domain, there are no effective constraints, and it seems like there’s nothing that can be done to shape the results. There are no appearances that there are any practices that can be leveraged and therefore all work is new, novel work.
In the liminal – or boundary – space between Complicated and Complex and Complex and Chaotic is Aporia. Aporia is a space where paradoxes exist and conflicting thoughts about the situation are brought together. In this space, the decision to be made – or the situation to be faced – is held in an intentional state of examination, where hopefully the conflicting ideas are allowed to settle into a single understanding.
The other line is the Confused line, which bounds Clear to Complex and Clear to Chaotic. It’s easy to become confused about what you’re seeing when a system is supposed to follow simple rules. A failure to follow these simple rules can lead you to the belief that the system is simply more complicated than clear, or it can lead you more precariously towards believing that the clarity was an illusion and what lies underneath is, in truth, chaotic.
- Dave Snowden’s Cynefin: Weaving Sense-Making into the Fabric of Our World