|What can be done about it?
“The quality of your life is in direct proportion to the amount of uncertainty you can comfortably deal with.”
Tony Robbins, American author, philanthropist, and life coach
As a first step, we might want to become aware of two patterns of behaviour pointed out earlier: that in times of uncertainty we try to hold on tighter to control rather than letting go, and the fact that we tend to revert to what has worked in the past. In both instances it would serve us much better to follow the wisdom of Genevan philosopher, writer and composer Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) who advises, “Take the course opposite to custom and you will almost always do well.”
What is required to thrive in today’s world is not control but adaptability, agility, flexibility – at least as the overarching mindset and attitude. Of course, it is also not as black and white as that, and while the context of the 21st century is generally more complex than anything we have experienced before, this level of complexity does not apply to all context nor all situations.
For understanding when to let go of control and allow emergence, the Cynefin Framework, created by Dave Snowden in 1999 while working at IBM Global Services, is helpful. It allows us to make sense and understand what kind of context we are facing, and therefore what the most appropriate response / approach would be. Snowden points out that it is a sense making framework, not a categorisation model, explaining that with the former data precedes the framework, with the later the framework precedes the data.
Depending on the context you are facing, a different approach to seeking a solution is most appropriate:
- In the ‘Simple’ or ‘Obvious’ quadrant rules are in place, there is a clear causal relationship, i.e. when I do ‘X’ I can expect ‘Y’ to happen. In such a situation it is advisable to “sense–categorise–respond”, i.e. establish the facts (“sense”), categorise, then respond by following the rule or applying best practice.
- In the ‘Complicated’ quadrant the relationship between cause and effect requires analysis or expertise and there is a range of appropriate answers. In such a situation it is advisable to “sense–analyse–respond”, i.e. assess the facts, analyse, and apply the appropriate good practice.
- In the ‘Complex’ quadrant, cause and effect can only be deduced in retrospect, and there are no right answers. Here it is advisable to take a “probe–sense–respond” approach, meaning that it is best to be patient, look for patterns to emerge, and allow a solution to emerge – emergent practice.
- In the ‘Chaotic’ quadrant cause and effect are unclear. Here an approach of “act–sense–respond” is most appropriate, i.e. act to establish order; sense where stability lies; respond to turn the chaotic into the complex – novel practice.
Snowden points out that all of us have a tendency to have a default ‘box’, i.e. a particular approach we apply, regardless of the specific situation, therefore often responding inappropriately, given the context.
You can watch Snowden explain the model in the video below, read a concise summary of the framework here, and read more about how leaders can use this framework for decision making in this Harvard Business Review article.