And immediately after pressing ‘publish’, I realize that I’ve misrepresented Cynefin. ‘Obvious’ wasn’t renamed to ‘Simple’, ‘Simple’ was renamed ‘Obvious’. This brings me back to the central question that underlies the intent of the essay. I don’t know whether I actually disagree with Cynefin, or whether I perceive that I disagree with Cynefin because I don’t really understand Cynefin.

I know that I agree (for now) with the model that I’ve sketched out, and have labeled ‘Heretical Cynefin’.

Now that I’ve actually written this (and I have an awful feeling that I’ve disturbed something sacred), I’m starting to think that I’ve done what I so often do when encountering someone else’s work: which is to come up with an interpretation that is simultaneously more precise and less useful.

If the objective is to facilitate executive decision making (which the title of the original HBR article implies) then Cynefin is probably best considered to be a Plan: “Work out which perceptive mode you should be using, and go with that.” Cynefin with five domains is therefore Action Cynefin. Whereas ‘Heretical Cynefin / cognitive theoretical Cynefin’ lives in a different cell of Argall’s Grid, and therefore can’t be used in the same way.

No, that’s not right.

The problem is that Cynefin is a plan and a system, dressed up as a system. But when we don’t separate the plan from the system, we end up attempting to use two levels of cognition simultaneously, which means that it defies coherent expression.

Crap, now I can’t be understood unless I explain Degrees of Abstraction, and I’m out of brain. Hopefully this makes some sense to people who were at the Requisite Agility UnSymposium and who have an independent understanding of Cynefin.

Like I said, I’m not trying to lay down the law, I’m trying to start a conversation.

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Nick Argall is an organization engineer, structuring activities to help businesses achieve their goals.

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