Focusing on moving from disorder in today’s world

To borrow and adapt a phrase from F. Scott Fitzgerald and those over at Cognitive Edge:The test of (complex adaptive) intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

I wanted to go back to one of my favorite frameworks, the Cynefin framework for partly thinking through the “known-unknown-unknowable” in our present world. We are seemingly more in the “unknown or unknowable” at present, perhaps in a world of disorder, in our understanding and actions relating to this coronavirus, a global pandemic.

The Cynefin framework is from Dave Snowden through Cognitive Edge. The positioning of Cognitive Edge is “making sense of complexity in order to act.”

I start by suggesting we need to find ways to navigate ourselves back into some (new) order; to stabilize the chaos we are in. What we first need to do is make sense of what is going on around us, we need to determine what actions to take and the level of action, resource and support each part needs. We need to constantly ask: is it clear, complicated, complex, or chaotic, or even worse, highly confusing. The Cynefin framework significantly helps us to determine what particular parts we are dealing with, in the decisions needed. Continue reading

Ring Fencing Constrains Innovation

It is the very act of ‘ring-fencing’ we have constrained innovation. We then can limit risk, as well as we are constantly separating it from the center of the company, even though many of us try to push it back towards the core.

Innovation remains separate for the clear majority of our companies even today as it is full of unknowns and question marks. Top executives just do not like the sound of this, so they seek to ring-fence innovation. One where they want to contain it, to try to tame it, so it can mirror their (mistaken) believe that our world is one of order, control, and stability.

Instead of embracing that the real world is actually an innovating world, full of opportunity, for those prepared to take a greater risk, will have much to gain. Regretfully we still see many companies operating with a 20th-century mindset. Thankfully the pressure upon companies to innovate, to get their growth back, is getting a very tough place to operate in today without tangible demonstration of innovation being realized. There is this need to “embrace” innovation. If not, rapid extinction is occurring for many that choose to ignore the sweeping changes we are witnessing in the business world, where more open and technology-driven innovators are connecting and collaborating. Those companies that only halve-heartedly attempting change are fearful and still want to “box” innovation in. A transformation where innovation and technology go hand-in-hand does have to be utterly full on to succeed! Continue reading

Cynefin: A framework that grows for me all the time, in its value and worth.

The Cynefin Framework by David Snowden, through Cognitive Edge

A good framework seems to grow, it becomes integrated into your thinking and application. You see increasing possibilities to apply it. One of these for me has been Dave Snowden’s Cynefin.

I also increasing apply the Three Horizons framework as well.

Both allow me to organize my thinking and provide options within any multiple evaluations to begin or shape thinking going forward. Both attempt to break down a growing complexity we all find in our word today.

One, the three horizons, attempts to sketch out our thinking about today’s world, of where we are and what we need to do to keep it going in a hopefully orderly state, and then looks to forecast out the changes we need to move towards, in a projected future and then identify the needs to get there. It passes through three horizons of today (H1), the near term (H2) and the longer term (H3).

You will find much of what I have written about on the three horizons story, within my insights and thinking tab (shown above) and look for the applicable section. Equally, you can put into the search box “three horizons” and many posts will come up to explore this, if you are curious on its value, position and our need, to use this on a more consistent basis.

The Cynefin framework provides a wonderful way to sort the range of issues faced by leaders and us all, into five contexts, defined by the nature of the relationships between cause and effect. Dave Snowden has been explaining these consistently for years. Four of these five are; obvious (formerly simple), complicated, complex and chaotic states and requires us to diagnose situations and then to act in contextually appropriate ways. The fifth one is disorder, often overlooked or not fully appreciated. It is when something is unclear, it is in a disorderly, highly transitory state and needs to be rapidly stabilized into one of the other four to give it a more orderly state going forward.

So why do I see this Cynefin framework as growing in importance? Continue reading

Are you dependent on other’s best practices?


I often wonder if “best practice” is actually a hidden drug within our organizations that everyone simply craves to be taking.

Why do so many advisory organizations promote best practice? Simply because those in the organization constantly feel under pressure to demonstrate why they are falling behind or keeping ahead of their competitors.

They crave knowing best practices, but tell me what really is the best practice of others really achieving?

If you are behind, best practice informs you and you go into a frantic mode to try and catch up. By the time you have achieved the best practice, it is simply out of date as those practicing this have most likely moved even further on.

Continue reading

Failing to explain innovation capital

Last week I made a complete ‘hash’ of explaining innovation capital. I made a set of basic mistakes in my preparation and my delivery. I allowed for little discussion and debate and I just ‘blasted’ on regardless. I’ve been standing in the innovation ‘sins’ corner most of this week.

I can honestly say I don’t feel so good about this failure at the moment and I thought a more public ‘confession’ was in order. I will also let the ones that suffered from this also know how I feel.I made such a simple set of basic mistakes. I’m still asking myself why and have been slowly working through it to get to the bottom of my ‘aberration’ moment. Let me share some of this with you as learning from failure is as important as celebrating success.

The story could easily go……”well it was simply one of those days…to much coffee beforehand, being distracted by other issues……”  No, those should simply not happen. Somehow I forgot some basics and then some more but I’m certainly never too old to (re)learn and own up to this.

Let me explain, I was asked my opinion in a thirty minute exchange on innovation capital. It was not my finest thirty minutes.

Often you know this is not going right but often more times than not you simply ignore all those internal warning signals going off in your determination to get all your points across. In the end, no one gains from this. This was not the time or place to expand on emerging theories or even recently acquired additional thought.  Certainly not from me, who had been sought out to offer a ‘considered’ opinion in the first place about innovation capital only. So what went wrong?

My first big mistake

I tend to fall into the camp of over preparing (for anything). In this case I not only went beyond refreshing all I was thinking on “what makes up innovation capital” but I decided to link it into the bigger picture. Now, there is no problem on doing that but not for a short 30 minute exchange. That was not the right vehicle to expand and broaden out any discussion; this could have been left for future ones. I well and truly got well ahead of myself.

Mistake number two

In my refreshing and reflecting beforehand I came across some different strands of thought that I simply ‘climbed into’ for my own understanding, referencing and future work. Of course the mistake I made was to then want to bring this straight into the discussion, moving the need to explain innovation capital quickly off the table and straight into the linkage into how it creates the value creation through the identification of the dynamics within the system. I got caught up in some of my own discoveries, linking far more to some other work I had been undertaking recently.

Mistake number three

Not only did I want to link into value creation but I needed to throw into the ‘pot’ the importance of the Business Model as well. So here I am attempting to construct the entire value structure when all I had been asked was to expand on innovation capital. I still kept going.

Mistake number four

Of yes, three strikes and you are usually out right?  Well in this case I was going for a forth one.

I began to argue that the whole debate about intellectual capital needed reframing, so can you image the layering on process I was subjecting my poor listeners too, all in a short 30 minute discussion.

So at the end of the thirty minute session I think there were some glazed looks. I suddenly realized this had spun out of control from my side and I’d really lost sight of the actual need, I’d gone way, way beyond. Not a good moment that even after so many years this can happen. It shouldn’t but it did.

Certainly a little humbling to say the least, and certainly not one of my finest, for those at the other end I wonder what they felt. I think I need to find out, I just hope they will be still talking to me.

So what is innovation capital?

“Innovation capital is the sum of all that promotes the development and changes required for achieving innovation outcomes, within one organization or its broader networked environment for market place advantage. These are made up of the resources, processes, and capabilities to develop a constantly evolving capacity to innovate.”

I opened up the discussion with this but I then failed to explain all its connected parts and its value.

I’m not sure if you know of David Snowden’s Cynefin framework?

The framework sets out five types of problems, realities, or systems, it provides a typology of contexts that guides what sort of explanations or solutions might apply.

Cynefin Framework

The Cynefin framework has five domains, they are explained as:

  • Simple, in which the relationship between cause and effect is obvious to all, the approach is to Sense – Categorise – Respond and we can apply best practice.
  • Complicated, in which the relationship between cause and effect requires analysis or some other form of investigation and/or the application of expert knowledge, the approach is to Sense – Analyze – Respond and we can apply good practice.
  • Complex, 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 and we can sense emergent practice.
  • Chaotic, in which there is no relationship between cause and effect at systems level, the approach is to Act – Sense – Respond and we can discover novel practice.
  • The fifth domain is Disorder, in the middle, which is the state of not knowing what type of causality exists, in which state people will revert to their own comfort zone in making a decision. I think those listening must have ‘headed for the hills’

Why do I bring this framework into this? Well in some ways I tried to ‘race around’ all five of its domains in thirty minutes and did not stop to think of this great framing model to stop me and focus on where innovation capital can fit.

Actually I did not even mention this Cynefin framework as I had not recognized what I was actually trying to do, which was actually not the brief either – mistake five. Although it could have been used to explain its value to work around where different innovation capital can fit and what might ‘make up’ the capital parts.

Instead of explaining the simple casual relationships of innovation capital, I went tumbling into the complicated, layering on the complex and then descended into the chaotic state of promoting the argument for novel practice and then I suspect ending in disorder (in all minds I would feel).

Not my finest thirty minutes, sometimes we make ‘things’ more complicated than they need to be or even were expected in the initial question! Mistake six.

Making six identified mistakes and still counting…oh boy! It hurts!