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Published on December 15, 2017

How to Thrive in Chaos

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,

        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

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        Last Updated on September 17, 2018

        How to Stop Multitasking and Become Way More Productive

        How to Stop Multitasking and Become Way More Productive

        Today we are expected to work in highly disruptive environments. We sit down at our desks, turn on our computer and immediately we are hit with hundreds of emails all vying for our attention.

        Our phones are beeping and pinging with new alerts to messages, likes and comments and our colleagues are complaining about the latest company initiative is designed to get us to do more work and spend less time at home.

        All these distractions result in us multitasking where our attention is switching between one crisis and the next.

        Multitasking is a problem. But how to stop multitasking?

        How bad really is multitasking?

        It dilutes your focus and attention so even the easiest of tasks become much harder and take longer to complete.

        Studies have shown that while you think you are multitasking, you are in fact task switching, which means your attention is switching between two or more pieces of work and that depletes the energy resources you have to do your work.

        This is why, even though you may have done little to no physical activity, you arrive home at the end of the day feeling exhausted and not in the mood to do anything.

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        We know it is not a good way to get quality work done, but the demands for out attention persist and rather than reduce, are likely to increase as the years go by.

        So what to do about it?

        Ways to stop multitasking and increase productivity

        Now, forget about how to multitask!

        Here are a few strategies on how to stop multitasking so you can get better quality and more work done in the time you have each working day:

        1. Get enough rest

        When you are tired, your brain has less strength to resist even the tiniest attention seeker. This is why when you find your mind wandering, it is a sign your brain is tired and time to take a break.

        This does not just mean taking breaks throughout the day, it also means making sure you get enough sleep every day.

        When you are well rested and take short regular breaks throughout the day your brain is fully refuelled and ready to focus in on the work that is important.

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        2. Plan your day

        When you don’t have a plan for the day, the day will create a plan for you. When you allow outside influences to take control of your day, it is very hard not to be dragged off in all directions.

        When you have a plan for the day, when you arrive at work your brain knows exactly what it is you want to accomplish and will subconsciously have prepared itself for a sustained period of focused work.

        Your resistance to distractions and other work will be high and you will focus much better on the work that needs doing.

        3. Remove everything from your desk and screen except for the work you are doing

        I learned this one a long time ago. In my previous work, I worked in a law office and I had case files to deal with. If I had more than one case file on my desk at any one time, I would find my eyes wandering over the other case files on my desk when I had something difficult to do.

        I was looking for something easier. This meant often I was working on three or four cases at one time and that always led to mistakes and slower completion.

        Now when I am working on something, I am in full-screen mode where all I can see is the work I am working on right now.

        4. When at your desk, do work

        We are creatures of habit. If we do our online shopping and news reading at our desks as well as our work, we will always have the temptation to be doing stuff that we should not be doing at that moment.

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        Do your online shopping from another place—your home or from your phone when you are having a break—and only do your work when at your desk. This conditions your brain to focus in on your work and not other distractions.

        5. Learn to say no

        Whenever you hear the phrase “learn to say no,” it does not mean going about being rude to everyone. What it does mean is delay saying yes.

        Most problems occur when we say “yes” immediately. We then have to spend an inordinate amount of energy thinking of ways to get ourselves out of the commitment we made.

        By saying “let me think about it” or “can I let you know later” gives you time to evaluate the offer and allows you to get back to what you were doing quicker.

        6. Turn off notifications on your computer

        For most of us, we still use computers to do our work. When you have email alert pop-ups and other notifications turned on, they will distract you no matter how strong you feel.

        Turn them off and schedule email reviewing for times between doing your focused work. Doing this will give you a lot of time back because you will be able to remain focused on the work in front of you.

        7. Find a quiet place to do your most important work

        Most workplaces have meeting rooms that are vacant. If you do have important work to get done, ask if you can use one of those rooms and do your work there.

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        You can close the door, put on your headphones and just focus on what is important. This is a great way to remove all the other, non-important, tasks demanding your attention and just focus on one piece of work.

        The bottom line

        Focusing on one piece of work at a time can be hard but the benefits to the amount of work you get done are worth it. You will make fewer mistakes, you will get more done and will feel a lot less tired at the end of the day.

        Make a list of the four or five things you want to get done the next day before you finish your work for the day and when you start the day, begin at the top of the list with the first item.

        Don’t start anything else until you have finished the first one and then move on to the second one. This one trick will help you to become way more productive.

        Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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