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Key Points


  • The Cynefin framework assists in comprehending varied situations to drive apt responses.
  • It categorizes problems into five domains: clear, complicated, complex, chaotic, and disorder.
  • Recognizing the domain you’re in is essential for selecting the right course of action.




The Cynefin Framework:

The Cynefin framework, introduced by Dave Snowden in 1999, is an insightful tool tailored to make sense of the myriad situations one might encounter. By categorizing these situations, the framework steers decision-makers toward the most suitable response.


Unraveling the Five Domains:


1. Clear (Also known as Obvious or Simple):

Situations with familiar problems and defined cause-and-effect relationships.

Solutions are evident and typically don’t demand expertise.

The approach: Sense → Categorize → Respond using best-practice solutions.

2. Complicated:

Situations with multiple potential solutions that aren’t immediately discernible.

Expertise is required for analysis and decision-making.

The approach: Sense → Analyze → Respond with expert guidance.

3. Complex:

Situations characterized by “unknown unknowns.”

Exploration through experimentation is essential.

The approach: Probe → Sense → Respond, moving the issue to the ‘complicated’ domain post-understanding.

4. Chaotic:

Situations where control is absent, and cause-and-effect relationships are ambiguous.

Immediate action is required to stabilize the situation.

The approach: Act → Sense → Respond, striving to bring order.

5. Disorder:

Situations where it’s unclear which domain applies.

The goal: Quickly discern the fitting domain and move accordingly.




Identifying Your Domain:

To determine the domain you’re operating in, consider the following questions:

  • Is the cause of the situation known?
  • Is the situation under control?
  • How comprehensive is your knowledge about it?
  • Does the solution demand specialized expertise?

Takeaway: The Cynefin framework underscores that diverse situations necessitate distinct responses. By pinpointing the nature of the situation you’re grappling with, this tool guides you towards an apt course of action.


Practical Exercise & Self-Inquiries: Applying the Cynefin Framework

1. Situational Analysis Exercise: Objective: Familiarize yourself with recognizing different situations and categorizing them within the Cynefin framework.


  • List down 5 recent challenges or decisions you faced in the past month.
  • For each situation, try to categorize it into one of the Cynefin domains.
  • Reflect on the actions you took. Were they in line with the recommended approaches for that domain?

2. Scenario Simulation: Objective: Understand how to apply the framework in hypothetical scenarios.


  • Create or find three fictional scenarios — a business problem, a personal challenge, and a societal issue.
  • For each, determine which domain of the Cynefin framework it falls under.
  • Discuss or note down the ideal course of action based on the domain.

3. Confidence Check Exercise: Objective: Learn to gauge confidence in the importance of a problem and the correctness of its solution.


  • Reflect on a current challenge or decision you’re facing.
  • On a scale of 1-10, rate your confidence regarding the importance of the problem.
  • On a scale of 1-10, rate your confidence in the solution you’re considering.
  • Use your scores to determine where this falls in the Cynefin framework and plan your next steps accordingly.

Self-Inquiries for Reflection:

  1. Can I recall a past situation where recognizing its domain could have led to a more informed decision?
  2. In which domain do most of my challenges fall, and what does that reveal about my environment or decision-making style?
  3. How can I ensure that my confidence ratings are based on data and not influenced by biases or emotions?
  4. Are there current situations where I’m operating in the ‘disorder’ domain? How can I quickly move them into a more defined domain?
  5. How might the Cynefin framework change the way I approach team or group decisions?

Actionable Tip: The next time you’re faced with a decision or problem, pause and take a moment to categorize it within the Cynefin framework. This simple act can provide clarity on the best approach to take. Remember, it’s not just about finding solutions, but about finding the right solutions.