Seeing the Challenges in Front of Us

One of the cool things about adult development is that as you grow you develop the capacity to see both the world inside yourself and the world outside of yourself in a more nuanced way. As you develop greater capacity in either area, it helps you in the other.

For the next few posts we’re going to focus on the external world and the nature of problems. I want to introduce a framework for understanding challenges or situations that has made a lot of sense to me - the Cynefin Framework. It made object challenges that I had only been subject to before.

Dave Snowden developed this tool as a decision making aid when he worked for IBM Global Services. Also known as a “sense-making tool”, the framework has five domains - obvious, complicated, complex, chaotic and disorder.

What is brilliant about this framework is that it distinguishes between the easy and impossible predicaments that we face. In doing so the framework helps us to approach challenges in ways that match the nature of the problem at hand.

For instance, Obvious problems are simple with solutions that can be repeated by anyone over and over again. Baking a cake from a mix is an Obvious kind of problem. You simply follow the directions on the back of the box, and you and every other cake mix maker will get the same results as long as they followed the directions.

An example of a Complicated problem would be building a rocket. Certainly not easy, requires some significant expertise, but there is a defined solution and it is replicable.

Complex problems are quite different. These are the kinds of problems that do not have answers that expertise can solve because the cause of the problem and the effect on the situation are too impossible to know in advance. The system in which the problems and challenges exist have too many influences that have varied and unpredictable impacts. An example of a Complex challenge is raising a child. Only in hindsight might you be able to see cause and effect.

Chaotic problems are those which you cannot and will not be able to understand the final cause and effect because there are simply too many systems interacting. An example of this is raising multiple children!

Sit with this for a bit and see how the problems you face may fit into each of these categories.

* Many thanks to Jennifer Garvey Berger for offering these examples of different types of problems.

Heather Jensen