Much of my work is in helping organizations prepare for increasingly creative and complex work because this is where the business value is, whether in offering differentiated services in a competitive market or in advancing scientific R&D. I have found that Dave Snowden’s Cynefyn framework has been helpful in my sense-making around this and Dave has recently advanced this model with a Work in Progress (WIP).
Complex, as defined by Cynefyn is a state in which the relationship between cause and effect can only be perceived in retrospect, but not in advance. The approach is to Probe – Sense – Respond in order to sense emergent practice.This is essentially the notion of perpetual Beta; constantly making probes of the environment, sensing what happens and developing next practices in view of the evidence. One cannot understand the environment until one probes it. Analysis is not enough.
Dave identifies two danger areas in the complex domain, both of which I have seen in organizations: SB & Co:
Strong belief [SB] – Low/Medium convergence, low coherence
I’m not sure of the name here, but this is the domain of different factions with similar power resulted in a fractured and disjoined position. This is one of the issues that techniques such as SNS are designed to resolve; by allowing different groups to work in parallel with interaction, conflict can be resolved through action not dialogue.
Confused [Co] – Low convergence, low/medium coherence
We’ve got some structure in the need but we don’t even have factions fighting between the options. Individuals have needs but there is no clumping or links between those individuals. It’s a mess with few patterns or structures that we can do anything with.
When I was talking to HR Executives last year, the consensus around social media was that they knew their companies had to change but they did not know where to start: Confused. Many seemed to be waiting for a list of Best Practices, but we know from Cynefin that these are only suitable for the Simple domain.
Conversely I have seen requests for proposals developed by one or two departments in an organization, usually Purchasing & IT, for a workplace collaboration product/service that is highly detailed and constrained but does not reflect the real needs of the workers. Just ask an L&D department if they are satisfied with the technology that was ‘given’ to them to do their jobs: Strong Belief.
So how could you balance convergence and coherence in the complex domain in order to make decisions?
Adopting three principles for working smarter in networked organizations might be a start:
- Narration of Work
- Distribution of Power
I have found Value Network Analysis a good exercise to break down beliefs in the embedded hierarchy and visualize how value actually flows. This helps with transparency, as people can see the organization through a new lens.
The narration of work can bridge beliefs by exposing people daily to what other people are doing. It’s like walking a mile in someone else’s shoes, but only 140 characters at a time.
Finally, if power is held by one group, let’s say Purchasing & IT, for all software acquisitions, then the end-users won’t even try to get involved in the process. I have seen many such departments resigned to the fact they will have to deal with another enterprise software implementation having had no say in the matter. Understanding the environment and building consensus are the real work of leaders in networks.