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decide: to cut off

Decision-making can be one of the most challenging parts of leading and managing. The root of the word decide comes from the Latin decidere, literally, to cut off, from de- + caedere to cut. When I make a decision I “cut off” other options. Perhaps that is why it is sometimes easier to put off decisions until tomorrow.

Organizations teach and use decision-making methods from facilitation strategies to formal Six-Sigma processes. There are personal methods like pro/con lists. I’ve recently been reading about and experimenting with the Cynefin Framework.

The Cynefin Framework (pronounced “key-nevin”) asks decision makers to assess context patterns and ask ourselves how we learn and what we know in five different domains. With the domain identified, we can choose questions, analyze the issue, and create an action plan. It enables us to include linear decision-making processes and expand beyond them when the context demands it.  It asks us to integrate what we know about our expertise, management theory, psychology, and complex adaptive systems.

Here is a short summary of the five domains:

  • Simple, where the relationship between cause and effect is obvious to all, the approach is to Sense – Categorise – Respond and we can apply best practice.
  • Complicated, where the relationship between cause and effect requires analysis or some other form of investigation and/or the application of expert knowledge, the approach is to Sense – Analyze – Respond and we can apply good practice.
  • Complex, where the relationship between cause and effect can only be perceived in retrospect, but not in advance, the approach is to Probe – Sense – Respond and we can sense emergent practice.
  • Chaotic, where there is no relationship between cause and effect at systems level, the approach is to Act – Sense – Respond and we can discover novel practice.
  • Disorder, which is the state of not knowing what type of causality exists, in which state people will revert to their own comfort zone in making a decision. (1)

And, from Snowden and Boone, developers of the Cynefin process:

In the complex environment of the current business world, leaders often will be called upon to act against their instincts. They will need to know when to share power and when to wield it alone, when to look to the wisdom of the group and when to take their own counsel. A deep understanding of context, the ability to embrace complexity and paradox, and a willingness to flexibly change leadership style will be required for leaders who want to make things happen in a time of increasing uncertainty. (2)

What methods do you use when making decisions? What questions would you find most useful in each of these domains?

Cognitive-Edge Methods (free)
Harvard Business Review: A Leader’s Framework for Decision Making

(1) Cynefin retrieved from on January 28, 2013.
(2) Snowden, D. J. & Boone, M. E. (2007) “A Leader’s Framework for Decision Making.” Harvard Business Review, 85(11), p. 69-76.

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