– one aspect – complexity science

It’s not a question of fashion even if agility is quite trendy nowadays…
Some consider agile the four-letter-word, others think it’s already passé, but I still believe that it will stick around for some time longer.

We view the world with more and more complexity and we are more able to recognize and accept the complexity of the world. We consider much more viewpoints, we have more extensive knowledge, there is more information to access.
With a more rapid flow of information our environment changes much more quickly. That’s why future becomes less predictable, even though we like order and predictability. This approach originates from the Newtonian worldview, which urges us to simplify matters, which might be useful in an orderly environment but might prove fatal if we are surrounded by unpredictable change and complexity.

But do we recognize what we are involved in and do we always manage to identify what’s happening around us?
We are less safe in complexity and although some crave safety even when order prevails, beware, those who are safe (or think to be safe) often forget to get information…and by the time they open their eyes again, life or the market has passed them by.

This is complexity science

The beauty and entirety of this is that it’s also true for parenting. Dave Snowden’s Cynefin framework points out how useful it is to have the proper mindset and tools to manage complexity. He categorizes our environment into five domains (simple, complicated, complex, chaotic, and disorder), where we operate, make decisions, and solve problems. For each domain, there is a set of operational methods and approaches, which enable us to cope.


These are processes, which are obvious and well-documented, such as a simple procurement or recruitment process.
Both the problem and the solution are self-evident, requiring minimum expertise and not much more than common sense. Tasks can be done routinely, based on best practices. The relationship of cause and effect and best practices characterize fields that seldom change.
The process of solution: sense, categorize, respond.


These are non-standard processes, such as complicated interviews (hiring a strategic leader), non-standard procurement (e.g. we haven’t bought anything like this before, consultative procurement process), IT solutions (own server vs cloud).
The solution requires analysis and the application of expertise. It’s plannable, but requires experience. I know about the unknown. I know that my car makes a funny noise, which it normally doesn’t do, so I take it to the mechanic to have it examined and fixed.
The problem can be solved by using good practices but you have to be an expert to see the solution. There might be several good solutions, so good practices are more appropriate than best practices.
The process of solution: sense, analyze, respond.


While complicated domains include at least one good solution, it is impossible to predict good answers in a complex domain. This is the difference between a static and a living system. A car is a complex system, but it’s no more than a sum of its parts. A mechanic can take it apart and put it back together without changing anything.

In case of a living organism such as a human or a company, the whole is more than the sum of its parts. The operation of a system is in a constant flux. We might look for causes and the cause is a part of connections, but it is arbitrary, so might lead us up the garden path. This is the realm of “unknown unknowns”.
Solution means the creation of something new, and events can be understood in retrospect (retrospective coherence).
Most changes in organizations belong here, such as a personal change in leadership or a modification of methodologies, which results in unforeseeable reactions.
The process of solution: probe, sense, respond.


It is typically the case of quick fixes: there is no best practice, no time to figure out the good solution, we choose the first one that seems appropriate, and establish order while investigating the problem.
In this situation, it makes no sense to look for good answers, this situation calls for quick action and emergency measures. The point is to gain control, stabilize the situation, and “stanch the bleeding”. The solution is action, sense, and respond, which transforms the situation from chaotic to complex.


The fifth domain (in the middle of the figure) is disorder. This is a kind of default position, from where we can view the world with unbiased curiosity and decide which approach to apply in a given situation.
It’s not easy to dwell here though, it is tense and uneasy not to know the answer right away, so we often decide based on a gut feeling, based on what we are used to.

The point, as with many other models like this, is to choose the appropriate measures for the appropriate situations. Why is it easy to err? Because I have to know, I have to sense how I work, what I am used to, what is my gut feeling (which might not be appropriate in the given situation) and I also have to sense and identify what the actual situation is like.
And there’s the rub, because during the process of sensing we use filters that characterize us and which are distortive in a fashion characteristic for us. When identifying, we use our beliefs, paradigms, value systems, and experience – mostly unconsciously. These processes obstruct clear vision and our bad decisions might cost us a lot.

Agile tools and methods have proved successful in managing complex domains. The agile mindset and view assist us when we need to recognize which domain we are facing and prevent us from the illusion of habit and safety.