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How to get out of the State of Disorder, Problem Solving & the Cynefin Framework

This is the last part of a series of 5 blogs about the HOW of Complex Problem Solving & the Cynefin Framework. Here we try to fix the State of Disorder and come out of the Zone of Assumptions.

Customer: Thanks for helping solve our problem. Maybe it’s just me, but you immediately started with a quick visualizing of the problem. Is that always the first step?

You: Yes

Customer: How does that fit in the Cynefin Framework? And by the way, you still need to explain that fifth category and the complacency thingy.

You: Yes, yes. Hold your horses. One step at a time. When the problem popped up we didn’t know exactly what the problem was and what the solution was. So, we didn’t have a simple problem. We were in the fifth category of the Cynefin Framework, called the State of Disorder. The way to get out of this state, see what kind of category the problem is in and act accordingly, is to visualize the problem using an Event Map as we have seen with complicated, complex and chaotic problems. By ordering the information we did have, with help of an Event Map, we created the overview to find out if “shit was hitting the fan” and there was no time to look for the root cause (chaotic) or that we had time to look for cause & effect in a preferably noninvasive (complicated) or invasive (complex) way. Furthermore, the unknown parts became apparent as well and we focused on the correct actions.

Customer: But we thought we had one issue, but after the Event Map, we saw that we had several issues, all part of the same problem. Then what?

You: That is usually the case. In my experience, there are no problems with just one cause anymore. We usually deal with multi-causal problems with contributing circumstances and things that should have prevented the problem from happening or escalating in the first place. That is what we call broken barriers. With the Event Map we reduced the complexity in the “I don’t have an overview” sense and broke up the problem into simpler (although not simple) problems.

orderdisorder 2.png

Disorders, Collage Art and Graphic design

Customer: And the team dealt with them one at a time.

You: Yes. Multitasking usually leads to chaos again. So, first we stabilized the chaotic situation. Some of the smaller problems were still complex, so we used the steps of complex problems. We already had the visualization so everybody could focus. Others were complicated and the team dealt with them accordingly. There was even a simple one we could fix immediately. With every step we reduced a problem first to a simpler one, hoping to end up with a simple problem we knew how to fix.

Customer: So you’re saying: If State of Disorder, then Event Map.

You: Yes, and you are in that state more often than you think.

Customer: Well, with us we know, or think we know the answer 9 out of 10 times immediately but sometimes the fix is not correct. What if you believe you already know what’s going on and you believe you know how to fix it?

You: Like the expert from last time?

Customer: Yeah!

You: That’s probably the hardest thing to do for anybody. If you really believe you are dealing with a simple problem and really believe you know the solution it is REALLY hard to realize that you might be jumping to conclusions and solutions. (The mechanics of this is beautifully explained by Kahneman in Thinking, Fast and Slow.) There is a very thin line between knowing and assuming. It that case the problem seems self-evident, therefore you KNOW it’s simple although in hind-sight it wasn’t. The problem is in the justification and truth part of the definition of knowledge as “justified, true believe”.

Customer: Are you getting philosophical over here?

You: Yes, but I will spare you the details. You can read up here. Cynefin calls it the Complacency Zone and that’s the zone between simple and chaotic. If you troubleshoot a simple problem wrongly (it wasn’t self-evident after all) you are very likely to end up in the chaotic part of the framework. You might be creating the shit that’s about to hit the fan.

Customer: But if you believe it is self-evident and simple, I don’t think you are complacent. The expert was trying to help with best intentions.

You: That’s true and I don’t think that the “Complacency Zone” is a good way of describing what’s going on. Maybe we should call it the Zone of Assumptions. One thing though, sometimes we need to reflect on what we are doing to REALLY make sure that we are not jumping to conclusions and solutions and first get evidence.

Customer: Yes, and?

You: Well, visualizing with a quick and dirty Event Map just for yourself might help. It takes about five minutes and at least you will have a clear idea what you are doing and going to do.

Customer: So facing a problem, what do I do?

You: You are probably in the state of disorder. So:

  1. Visualize your information using an Event Map
  2. Determine if “Shit is hitting the fan”
  3. If so, act, sense and respond to stabilize the situation and reduce the problem(s) to complex, complicated or even simple ones
  4. Deal with the problems accordingly

Customer: And if you are not in that state?

You: Meaning you believe you are dealing with a simple problem? First be absolutely sure you’re dealing with a simple one with the help of quick and dirty Event Map :).

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