Making Sense of the Enterprise Continuum, Part I

There is that famous proverb by George E. P.Box:

All models are wrong but some are useful.

If there is one model that fits that criterion, it must be Cynefin.

Cynefin regularly receives criticism, grounded and ungrounded, for example by academics for its “oversimplification” as formulated in Key Issues in the New Knowledge Management.

But is’t that what models are? An oversimplification of reality? Anyhow the simplification proves to be awfully useful in conceivably explaining that not everything can be ordered upfront and maybe should be ordered at all.

In fact Cynefin creates the awareness that a perspective well beyond the oversimplification that today is predominantly being maintained, is key in better dealing with reality. Paradoxically enough, Cynefin is even a model that demonstrates when models aren’t useful!

Now, what is Cynefin?  Cynefin is in fact what is called a sense-making model, actually referred to as a framework rather than a model. Instead of explaining further details myself, I’ll leave that to the prime author, David J. Snowden (@snowded), as there is no way that I can equal David’s canny explanation.

Found that interesting? Unfortunately, understanding of Cynefin often ends here. A consequence is that many fail to grasp its full usefulness. Real understanding requires additional insight in the associated “dynamics”. And gaining familiarity with the dynamics will require an extra effort through the reading of a paper: The new dynamics of strategy: Sense-making in a complex and complicated world. Be aware that the paper predates the video and is still using “known” and “knowable” for what today is labeled as “simple” and “complicated” respectively.

Now, how can Cynefin be useful?  As the title suggests, I will shed light on how Cynefin is in making sense of the enterprise continuum. But before going there, some reviewing and rereading might be necessary to fully comprehend Cynefin.

2 thoughts on “Making Sense of the Enterprise Continuum, Part I

  1. People interested in modeling and the use of models should really read this paper by John D. Sterman: All Models are Wrong: Reflections on Becoming a Systems Scientist

    For those who don’t like to read papers I will mention only this quote from the abstract:

    “Most important, and most difficult to learn, systems thinking requires understanding that all models are wrong and humility about the limitations of our knowledge. Such humility is essential in creating an environment in which we can learn about the complex systems in which we are embedded and work effectively to create the world we truly desire.”

  2. Hey Kris the cynefin framework is indeed even more interesting that what you suggested the other day when we discussed it! Thanks a lot for posting it. Like you say, this has the potential to become a core idea in system thinking and decision making theories.

    Now, I’m very interested in how this framework can be applied and how actions can be taken based on it. That means I’m very much looking forward to reading your next post.

    See you around,


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