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Are you an effective decision maker? A better framework to deal with complexity

Source | LinkedIn : By Mellissa Ferrier

Bangalore came to a standstill on Tuesday. A flash strike by garment and textile workers due to the central government’s decision to change the employee Provident Fund scheme left buses, trucks, cars and people stranded as well as roads and thoroughfares closed. Friends and colleagues were caught up in the worst traffic jams and left to ponder life behind their steering wheels, hoping life would return to normal. Still today I’m not exactly sure how I got home as I battled uneven dirt roads, potholes, and narrow lanes, forever grateful to the strangers on motorbikes and kind fellow commuters, who urged me to follow them, with intermitted GPS and unchartered and unmapped roads that greeted me. The experience left me feeling relieved and in a weird state of exhilaration as I had to deal with so many unknowns and leave behind the comfort of predictability and my routine.

The experience reminded me of Snowden and Boone’s famous Cynefin framework, a powerful decision making lens to help people make better decisions during different situations rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. It categorizes the issues we face in our daily lives and at work into four contexts: simple, complicated, complex, and chaotic, plus offers a preferred response in each.

  1. Simple: The contexts which are stable and have clear cause-and-effect relationships. There are usually ‘known knowns’ and right answers. The ideal response is to Sense, Categorize, and Respond. For example, heavily process orientated situations such as loan payment processing. The manager assesses the problem (only partial payments are being made) categorizes it (reviews policy to see how to deal with partial payment) and responds appropriately (accept the partial payment or not according to terms of policy) In Simple contexts, it is ideal to have proper policies in place, rely on Best Practices and communicate in a direct way with employees.
  2. Complicated: The context continues to be stable and cause-and-effect relationships exists, however they must be discovered, usually by experts. This is the realm of the ‘known unknowns’ and multiple right answers. The ideal response is to Sense, Analyze, and Respond. For example, we may know there is something wrong with the washing machine but we need to call a mechanic to diagnose the problem and (hopefully) fix it. In Complicated contexts, it is best to create a panels of experts and show a willingness to listen to conflicting advice.
  3. Complex: The context is in flux and unpredictable. No right answers exist. We can only wait for emergent patterns and solutions to emerge. This is the realm of ‘unknown unknowns’ and the domain where most businesses now operate. The ideal response is Probe, Sense, and Respond. For example, in Apollo 13, none of the experts knew of a solution that would work, instead they let a solution emerge from the materials they had at hand. To successfully operate in a complex domain, it is best to rely on a more experimental mode of management, stepping back, allowing patterns and solutions to emerge as well as being tolerant to failure. Those who try to impose order and control will fail.

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