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Cynefin - a vital part of our Change Design approach


I’m a fan of the Cynefin Framework [1]. I apply Cynefin in my professional practice. I often share about the Cynefin with leaders and teams as a very useful tool to add to their knowledge and tool sets.


Particularly as it opens up conversations and possibilities around different contexts needing different responses and strategies – one size does NOT fit all. This can be liberating, as well as challenging.



I often have to explain the pronunciation of the Welsh word: It’s like ku-nev-in; and not like sin-a-fin. (People may have seen it written, but not associate that word with the word I am using in conversation.)


I’m not going to explain Cynefin here. Rather I’ll introduce you to existing quality resources from different voices that can help you gain an understanding.


The Cynefin Framework celebrated its 21st birthday in 2020, and there’s a lot of content around to access about it – maybe too much for the beginner! So this article is a curated collection of resources I can recommend for your learning journey. (And I won’t have to recompile this list each time some wants some selected links from me, hurrah!)


The list is provided in my recommended sequence of digesting.


A starting place

A Leader’s Framework for Decision Making (Harvard Business Review, 2007)

A very readable general introduction; though out of date with regards to some of the language on the model. It will tell you what the word ‘Cynefin’ means too.


A tour around the latest Cynefin iteration (Chris Corrigan, 2020)

Read this to catchup on the multiple language changes and additions since the 2007 article above. This also introduces the liminal space that appeared in 2018 version, and is useful to know about if you’re wondering where Agile fits in the framework.


The Cynefin Framework [8:30 min video] (Cognitive Edge, 2010)

Watch this if you like to get your information visually rather than by text; and you get to hear directly from Dave Snowdon, the creator of the framework.


Making Sense of Complexity – an introduction to Cynefin [4:00 min video] (Cultivating Leader, 2017)

Another video version, with appearance by Jennifer Garvey Berger. For some she might be easier to digest, than the very erudite Dave Snowden. You’ll find other videos of hers on YouTube explaining various aspects of Cynefin and complexity.


Going a little deeper

7 Differences between complex and complicated (Sonja Blignaut, 2019)

This is essential reading to get a deeper understanding on the difference between Complex and Complicated, according to Cynefin. It can enable you to avoid confusing these terms with their general meaning, and appreciate some of the valuable detail within Cynefin.


Ten things to keep in mind when facilitating an emergent process (Sonja Blignaut, 2018)

When you’re ready to start thinking about how understanding complexity and emergent might be applied, read this article about a different kind of facilitation.


Cynefin – Weaving Sense-Making into the Fabric of our World (Cognitive Edge, 2020)

This book was published on the 21st anniversity of Cynefin; available in printed and e-book formats. It’s about “the remarkable 21-year journey of Cynefin, a framework that enables people from all walks of life to improve – their situation, their work, their business, their relationships, and their environment. Cynefin practitioners share their wisdom, applications, and experiences using the Framework, across healthcare, leadership facilitation, organizational behavior, safety, software development, strategy, and well-being. You’ll discover how to not only ‘ride the rapids of complexity,’ but find in so doing, grace, power, and inexplicable opportunity.”


Substantially deeper

To give you a taste of how deep you could go into understanding Cynefin. As this is a primer – I’m only offering the one item to read, plus a source for browsing things of interest.


Constraints that enable emergence (Chris Corrigan, 2020)

Constraints are a key idea in the Cynefin framework. It may take a while for this aspect and its relevance to sink in. So this is a place to start.

Cynefin Wiki (The Cynefin Co and friends)

This wiki was established in 2020 and is an organic emergent artefact. The Cynefin Co (formerly Cognitive Edge) have released their methods ‘into the wild’ via the Wiki so this can be rich resource for advice and guidance on application of Cynefin. Treat this as a central place to further explore and dive into areas that interest you.



[1] Cynefin Framework was created by Dave Snowden, and is the intellectual property of The Cynefin Co (formerly Cognitive Edge.)



Cynefin Melbourne Meetup

This group meets monthly to explore and learn around the praxis and varied application of Cynefin Framework. (New Members welcome!)



Originally published by Questo in 2021; republished with permission.

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