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How to Thrive in Chaos

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How to Thrive in Chaos

John F. Kennedy once remarked,

Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan.

H. William Dettmer used this quote in an interesting way – commenting,

“In business, successes are usually trumpeted, while failures are normally buried in obscurity. Consequently, it may be difficult to find practitioners willing to advertise that we failed to achieve positive results with – insert name of your chosen methodology of the month.”

Dettmer used this to point out how we blindly use popular management tools and techniques in problem-solving. The problem is that we might be using a technique ill-suited for the environment we are in. So, how can we identify our environment in order to apply the right tool? One way to do this is to use the Cynefin framework.

A Sense-Making Framework

    Developed by Dave Snowden (not Edward Snowden!), the Cynefin framework is a conceptual way to assist decision makers in making decisions. The word Cynefin (pronounced KUN-iv-in) is a Welsh word for habitat. Dettmer informs us that it is a way to help us visualize and understand how systems operate within a variety of domains. Let’s take a look at how he describes this framework.[1]

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    The external environment describes a continuum from ordered to unordered. The continuum is further divided into general contexts, or domains. It is a sense-making framework helping us make and understand where a system exists among the domains. It helps us identify the correct tools, approaches, processes, and methods that are likely to work in a given domain.

    It is not intended to categorize as most categorization matrices imply some value judgement about which cell is better. No one cell is more valuable than the other.

    Five Domains of the Cynefin Framework

      The Cynefin framework is essentially five domains, where four are associated with environmental factors or systems – the fifth domain touches the other four.

      1. Simple
      2. Complicated
      3. Complex
      4. Chaotic
      5. Disorder

      We can use this framework to identify the state of our knowledge and the state of available information. Another way to look at this is by identifying the state of what is certain to what is uncertain. An understanding of this will assist us in determining which domain we exist in as an organization.

      1. Simple

      In the Simple domain, systems are stable and we can see clearly the cause-and-effect relationship. Little uncertainty exists in this domain and we are able to make decisions by simply categorizing things.

      State of Knowledge and Information:

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      • The information is available and we have it.
      • As an organization, we have asked questions and have found the right answers.
      • The “right” answer is easy to identify.

      Example of this domain:

      • Government departments

      Tools to use in this domain:

      • Typical top down command and control system where employees follow a simple standard operating procedure.

      2. Complicated

      This is the domain of experts. In the Complicated domain you will find that there is no single “right” answer. Dettmer informs us that the philosophy of continuous process improvement is rooted in this domain.

      State of Knowledge and Information:

      • We know the information we need, but we don’t have the answers.
      • We have asked but have not received an answer.

      Example of this domain:

      • Auto-manufacturing

      Tools to use in this domain:

      3. Complex

      The best way to determine if you have a Complex or Complicated system is to figure out if you have an emergent or complex adaptive system. Dettmer points out that a complex system will have large numbers of components or agents interacting (as well as learning and adapting).

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      State of Knowledge and Information:

      • The information we need is out there somewhere, but we don’t know what we’re looking for.
      • We have not asked, but the answer is out there.

      Examples of this domain:

      • Stock Market, Insect Colony, Insurgency

      Tools to use in this domain:

      4. Chaotic

      This is the realm of the unknown. Here you will find that possessing an understanding of cause-and-effect is almost useless. Dettmer informs us that the recipe for disaster is to wait for patterns to emerge (thus failing to act). In this domain, decisions must be made with no time for reflection. This is also the domain for “moonshot thinkers” and for those who seek to completely destroy (not in a negative way) or change a system or organization.

      State of Knowledge and Information:

      • We don’t know what we don’t know.
      • We have not asked because we don’t know what to ask.

      Example of this domain:

      • Attacks of September 11, 2001

      Tools to use in this domain:

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      5. Disorder

      The fifth domain is Disorder – which touches every other domain. This is the realm of the unknown. An organization can slip into this domain at any point in time and from any domain. It is also extremely difficult at times to recognize if you are in this domain. Dettmer provides the following advice if you find your organization has slipped into this domain,

      “The way out of this realm is to break down the situation into constituent parts and assign each to one of the other realms. Leaders can then make decisions and intervene in contextually appropriate ways.”

      Flow of Ideas

        Dave Snowden, developer of the Cynefin framework, discusses the dynamics an organization goes through within his framework and provides the following advice. [2]

        • To enable the partially constrained flow of ideas, we need to ensure there is good connectivity within the organization, but without central control. Leaders need to stand above the system but not engage with it.
        • As coherence starts to clump, we then shift by recognizing the structure and process of our organization.
        • A pattern of destruction to enable rebirth should be built into your system. After a period of time we should break up the formal group allowing a new knowledge to be created. We should break all links allowing new links to form.

        This last point is the one that struck me the most. I thrive in chaos and love to create new things. When I see destruction, I see it as a good thing. I see it as a paradigm shift and a way to bring forth something radically new.

        This brings to mind a couple examples that could use complete destruction, thus bringing about a paradigm shift in the way we think about them. The first one is that of climate change. The second is a topic I write about extensively – the foster care system. We need to completely destroy how we think about the two and how we operate within them.

        Lastly, I will leave you with Albert Einstein ‘s advice,

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        We shall need a substantially new way of thinking if humanity is to survive.

        Featured photo credit: By Akshat Rathi via qz.com

        Reference

        More by this author

        Dr. Jamie Schwandt

        Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt & Red Team Critical Thinker

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        Last Updated on June 1, 2021

        10 Effective Ways To Make You a Fast Learner

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        10 Effective Ways To Make You a Fast Learner

        The importance of learning cannot be underestimated. Learning empowers us to fulfill our ideas and realize our full potential. The speed of gaining new knowledge is practically as important as its volume. Who wouldn’t love to remember tons of information as quickly as possible?

        If you want to start learning faster, you need a new approach towards the process which would enable you to comprehend the essence of the matter and relate it with new concepts you encounter.

        The following 10 tips will help you become a fast learner:

        1. Analyze Your Learning Style

        Before you can start experimenting with different studying methods, you need to understand what type of learner you are:

        Is your memory associated to sound?

        Maybe you can remember what you were reading when a particular song was playing? If this is your case, then you fall into the category of auditory learners.

        If you want to start studying more efficiently, then it would be wise to record the lectures and listen to them instead of reading textbooks.

        Do you relate information to visual content?

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        If you are a visual learner, you should implement images, graphs, charts, infographics, colorful lists, flashcards, and other types of visual content when you study.

        Are you a physical learner?

        If your learning style is not auditory or visual, then you might be a physical learner. Some students have too much energy; they tap their feet or play with a pen during lectures.

        A walk before a lecture will calm your nerves down. You can try studying or listening to audio lectures during a walk. That will help you remember the information more quickly.

        2. Use the Right EdTech Tools

        Technology has the power of making everything easier. There are plenty of websites, online tools, and smartphone/tablet apps that will boost your skills of planning, writing, time management and brainstorming, etc.

        One way of improving your productivity is using flashcards. You can make your own cards, but you can also download pre-made kits online:

        • StudyBlue is one of the best online destinations when it comes to creating and discovering flashcards from all areas of study.
        • If you are looking for a tool that makes the process of brainstorming more effective, then you should try PapersGear.
        • You also need the SelfControl app, which will eliminate all distractions when you need to stay focused.
        • Quizlet is another website you should bookmark; it offers study tools that will transform the learning process into a fun activity.
        • Notella is an app that will help you take quick notes at any time.
        • Brainscape is an educational platform that makes complex subjects easy by relying on cognitive science.
        • You can also try Dragon Dictation, especially if you are an audio learner.

        3. Train Your Brain to Accept New Information

        Efficient studying is a habit. Your brain needs constant training if you want to improve your focus and complete complex tasks without taking breaks.

        One way to achieve this goal is to create a private learning space in your home. You’ll also need a specific time of day that you’ll devote to studying. That will make your brain ready to accept the information it gets, so you’ll notice you’re starting to learn much faster by the day.

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        4. Get Some Exercise

        You are aware of the fact that physical activity is good for your body, but your brain needs it too!

        Light exercise, such as yoga, can help you learn much faster. If you are inactive throughout the day, your body will want to move, so it will be difficult for you to stay focused.

        If, on the other hand, you canalize your energy through light training sessions, you will be ready to study productively.

        5. Work on the Ambiance

        If you have a noisy neighborhood or a working environment full of distractions, you won’t be able to learn or study no matter how hard you try.

        If you want to learn quickly, you need a quiet, distraction-free environment that won’t disturb the mind in any way. Such a peaceful place will set you in learning mode as soon as you find yourself in it.

        6. Take a Lot of Notes

        Only few people are capable of remembering information as they read it. If you don’t belong to this category of privileged learners, then you absolutely need to start taking notes.

        This simple learning method will force you to think about the essence of the material. It will also give you a nice framework that will help you review the things you’ve learned.

        Write down only the most important information. That will help you remember all the other things you’ve learned.

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        Here’re some tips to take notes effectively: Why Successful People Take Notes And How to Make It Your Habit

        7. Make Mind Maps

        Mind maps are among the best tools to speed up the learning process. Your mind will process information effectively if you create a visual representation of the things you’re about to learn.

        You can create a nice mind map in the old-school way: take a large sheet of paper and organize all facts and explanations. Use pictures, note-cards, and other symbols you can think of. Group similar items together and connect them with colorful pens.

        Some tips mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

        Of course, you can also use an online mind mapping tool if you want to save yourself some time.

        8. Experiment with Memorization Methods

        Memorizing is often misused in the process of studying. Some people memorize whole sentences, paragraphs and lectures without grasping their essence.

        However, memorization can be useful when you need to learn definitions and classifications really quickly. Don’t avoid this technique if you want to fill your brain with information without wasting any time.

        Try this if you want to memorize more and faster: How to Memorize More and Faster Than Other People

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        9. Find the Right Context

        Memorization works solely in times of urgency. If you want to learn in the most effective manner, then you need to have context for information.

        Find an aspect that’s interesting for you; try to research for related information, and you’ll discover the joy of learning.

        The first step? Jot down as much information and as many ideas as possible: How Simply Jotting Down Ideas Can Make You Smarter

        With time, this practice will make you a faster learner.

        10. Study Every Day

        It will take some time before you get used to a daily studying routine, but your mind will eventually grasp the habit.

        The more frequently you study, the less time it will take for you to remember the things you read.

        If you start studying as soon as possible after you have learned some new concepts, it won’t take long at all for you to get ready for an exam. Now that sounds really good, doesn’t it?

        More to Help You Learn Quicker

        Featured photo credit: Becca Tapert via unsplash.com

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