Crises are mounting high - to be felt at all levels!
It can be noticed at company level: despite order books may be full, components may be missing due to cut supply chains. On the other hand, staff may not be there to work orders off. In addition, demand may collapse, hopefully not forever, but in a drastic way. Thus, margins cannot be upheld. The Cynefin model allows a more thorough analysis.
In the background loom problems on a completely different level. Most important, the war against Ukraine; gas and electricity are scarce or expensive or both, inflation remains as high as 10 percent, CORONA and long COVID have not been overcome. Still, all are only temporarily pushing the climate crisis to the back seat.
The situation is, shortly, VUCA! Volatile, uncertain, complex, ambivalent ( more on this here). And by all means can it can be felt down to the shop floor level.
The Cynefin model suggests a creative, fresh approach to handling crises. This points outside of proven patterns, as those might finally contribute to the aggravation of the situation! The hoarding of scarce parts, raw materials and fuel might lead to even more shortages! Broadening the base of suppliers, especially globally, is perhaps more sustainable. Larger batches as a result of a reduction in the variety of variants suddenly lead to a drop in demand. Also, more control of presence (“No more home office!”), and adding fifty cents to retain employees may make them want more, just somewhere else. …
The Cynefin model describes circumstances and a look at the solution
The Cynefin model (Gaelic, pronounced Gnawin), or author Dave Snowden, particularly distinguishes between obvious, complicated, complex, and chaotic conditions. A condition is clear when it is simple, when cause and effect are obvious and can be addressed using valid best practices. Allow me a funny analogy: the board game nine men’s morris with its clear rules and simple procedure – he or she who starts will win. A situation is complicated when it appears difficult and demands study and expertise, but good practice can be trusted to produce good results. An analogy: Sudoku, even its most difficult versions. The rules are clear and strict logic finally leads to the result, maybe after several attempts.
complex und chaotic: critical
Complex is a condition that is unknown, but one is aware of that. Like when different factors don’t just add up, but interact in a interwoven manner. And if own actions do not lead to clear consequences, but to perhaps unimagined ones. This distinction is particularly important! Snowden describes that cause and effect can only be grasped in hindsight and that the approach has to be in probe – sense – respond. Another board game as an example: chess! The difference to the previously mentioned games: there is an opponent who follows his own tactics. And who, on top of that, definitely reacts to one’s own moves.
In the end it all gets chaotic: “hell breaks loose”. The situation becomes unknown in a way that cannot be foreseen. And certainly it can’t be controlled with well known wisdom or methods. Completely new practices are in need here.
Ideas for different ways out are scarce and obscure – yet let’s consider:
- use natural language instead of data only – graphics say more than raw Excel sheets.
- include different people, even naysayers in quering, analysis, idea generation, and deciding.
- Allow empathy and feelings, exploit different skills and backgrounds, foster creativity. So as to create an integrated view!
- communicate early on, when all this goes on (thus not only decisions already met). So as to maintain and uphold trust!
Yet: Confusion arises if and when ...
Finally, Snowden and other authors warn that confusion arises when condition and approach do not match! In the known or knowable domain, step by step approaches, best practices lead to fine or good enough results. At the same time, it is not worth mixing up mastered routines through using unusual, e.g. agile, methods. This it is not a matter of a misunderstood failure culture, but of further reducing the ppm or dpm – that is tough enough.
But in complex or even more so chaotic situations, well known methods for problem solving will not lead to the goal. Deciders are drawn to their day to day job tasks and then they may focus on the most immediate issues, so they just do something. To say it more drastically: there may be a risk of sticking to the comfort zone and resorting to routine!
The Cynefin model reinvents and expands agility
After all, in complex and chaotic situations it is important to vary approach beyond procedure. Here the concept of agility regains its original meaning out of the sphere of software development – and is expanded. It’s about, even if it sounds cynical, to raise the creative potential of crises.