Cynefin is a sense-making framework and model that helps individuals and organizations understand the nature of problems they face and make better decisions in complex and uncertain environments. The term “Cynefin” is derived from a Welsh word that roughly translates to “habitat” or “place of multiple belongings.” It was developed by Dave Snowden and Cognitive Edge as a way to address the challenges of decision-making in complex systems.

The Cynefin framework categorizes problems into five domains based on their characteristics:

  1. Simple: In the Simple domain, problems are well-defined, and there are clear cause-and-effect relationships. Solutions can be easily identified, and best practices can be applied. This domain is also known as the “Obvious” domain.
  2. Complicated: The Complicated domain deals with problems that have multiple potential solutions, but cause-and-effect relationships are not as clear as in the Simple domain. Expertise and analysis are required to find effective solutions.
  3. Complex: The Complex domain encompasses problems where cause-and-effect relationships are unclear and may only be understood in hindsight. Multiple factors interact in unpredictable ways, making it challenging to find a definitive solution. In this domain, experimentation and adaptive approaches are essential.
  4. Chaotic: In the Chaotic domain, there is no clear relationship between cause and effect, and the situation is rapidly changing and unpredictable. Urgent actions are required to stabilize the situation and move it into one of the other domains.
  5. Disorder: The fifth domain is Disorder, which represents a state of ambiguity where it is unclear which of the other domains the problem falls into. This domain highlights the need for exploration and sense-making to understand the nature of the problem before applying appropriate strategies.

The Cynefin framework helps decision-makers choose appropriate strategies based on the domain in which a problem or situation is situated. Different approaches, such as best practices, expert analysis, emergent solutions, or rapid response, are more effective in different domains. Understanding the domain allows individuals and organizations to make informed decisions and respond effectively to complex and uncertain situations.

Cynefin has found applications in various fields, including management, leadership, project management, and problem-solving, as it provides a framework for embracing complexity and dealing with uncertain and unpredictable challenges.

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