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  • Toby Sinclair

Cynefin Foundations – Learning Journal – Module 2

Updated: Feb 13, 2022

A learning journal containing my ah-ha moments, puzzles and learning notes as I complete the Cynefin Foundations Online course

Module 2 Topics:

  1. The difference between a sense-making and categorization framework

  2. How Cynefin™ informs decision-making and different types of action

  3. How humans divide Order into two domains: Obvious and Complicated

  4. How to engage a team or group workshop in making sense of situations using the Cynefin™ framework by categorisation situations

3 Ah-ha Moments:

  1. There is a “pathway” to move through the domains. For example from Complex to Obvious. I hadn’t previously understood the nature of movement through the domains so this was good learning. Expanded further in notes below.

  2. Cynefin is a sense-making framework NOT a model

  3. A model seeks to represent reality. A framework is a way to look at reality

  4. Data should inform the framework. Avoid categorisation instead of sense-making

2 Unanswered Questions:

  1. What case studies/examples exist of organisations moving a challenge/solution through the domains?

  2. What indicators exist to inform what stage/section/level of the domain model you are in? For example, Heretics v Group Think

1 Next Step:

  1. Explore and experiment with movement throughout all the domains


Learning Notes:

Domain Models and Movement:

  1. Core to the Cynefin Framework is the movement between domains. For example, from Complex to Complicated and vice versa.

  2. In addition, there is a movement within a domain itself. Within complex domains for example.

  3. This movement is described in 3×3 matrices for each domain. 

Complex Domain Matrix

Within the complex domain, to act you need :

  1. Some degree of evidence as coherence

  2. People have to buy to some degree to allow you to do experiments.


  1. Nature of Evidence:

  2. Beyond a reasonable doubt – Point where the problem starts to transfer into the complicated domain (Liminal state)

  3. Inductive –  Evidence it works in several cases it’s starting to go in the right direction

  4. Gut feel or intuition – Does not pass coherence tests

  5. Degree of acceptance

  6. On a small number of people, a Cognoscenti really get this right, this is an elite

  7. Orthodox – accepted to most people come

  8. Synchrony – That means everybody is walking in step, and there’s no dissent anymore

Line of coherence

  1. The lowest energy route through the domain is safe-to-fail experiments > Projects and initiatives > Ready for Exploitation.

“Stages” within the domain

  1. Heretics and Mavericks – Most good ideas end up here, a small group of people who know this is true, but nobody believes. These are people who actually do see a new way of working, but they have no way of explaining it to the wider organization, it’s the guy who created digital photography in Kodak, but Kodak doesn’t believe there’s any future of it. 

  2. Skunkworks – Work on secret projects to build coherence and the ability to “tell the story” to convince others

  3. Coaching and Mediation – Find people with time, who have the trust of senior management. Because if you can convince them, their approval, will convince other senior managers.

  4. Break it up fast, zero-tolerance  – Often where people have accepted a “management fad” with little or no evidence of its value. The key action here is to break up the group of “believers” before it gets more traction

  5. Groupthink – The belief of the group takes hold. High acceptance of ideas based upon group “gut feel”

  6. Challenge the evidence – 

  7. Portfolio of Safe to fail experiments – Highly novel ideas, only a small number of people understand them. And that’s where you run safety fail experimentation, or you do things like triplet programming prototyping.


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