At a workshop I facilitated last week - the challenge was helping a team to generate new ideas for innovating their business - I used Dave Snowden's Cynefin framework to great effect. This was a smart crowd, who were willing to go along with our approach on helping them see new directions through a process of emergent discovery - but they wanted to understand why we were following this approach. For the many cerebral folks in this crowd, I explained the Cynefin framework - and they got it! We could have studied 'best practices for establishing an innovation culture', or we could have thoroughly analysed successful innovations of the past for 'good practices' and for discovering cause-effect relationships between new ideas and successful outcomes. But we didn't. And they were ok with it once I explained to them why innovation and 'best practices' or 'analytics' don't go well together, using the Cynefin framework. In short, I argued that innovation - the activity they wanted to engage in - has many characteristics of a complex adaptive system: cause and effect are not linked in a linear way, many agents are interconnected and interacting, etc.
Innovation in this particular client setting (and probably in most cases) takes place for a large part in the 'complex domain' of the Cynefin framework, rather than in the ordered domains the group was more familiar with from their professional training or exposure to big 4 consulting: the 'simple' domain (where best practices might have worked) or the 'complicated' domain (where 'left brain' analysis and experts would have been a good approach). So this time, for the idea generation and elaboration phase, we used a bunch of methods that are really well-suited for the complex domain, and that relied heavily on conversations in smaller sub-groups, creation of many different ideas (or mini-narative fragments), 'right brain' activities such as pattern recognition for clustering the various idea fragments, synthesis, visualization (the wonders a stack of old magazines can do!), and storytelling to bring it all to life. For the workshop, we created a design that featured a mix of Design Thinking concepts (including 'diverging before converging' from Tim Brown's book Change by Design), a few adapted concepts that were pioneered by Gary Hamel (and the firm he founded: Strategos), including Orthodoxies and Discontinuities (in his classic Competing for the Future) to create stimuli for the idea generation phase and a "Ritual Dissent" exercise out of the Cognitive Edge toolkit to 'pressure test' some of the elaborated ideas in a short time period.
While running the latter simple but effective exercise - they loved it by the way, even those that were being subjected to the critical questions from the other groups - I realized that the exercise emulates on a very small scale what the suggested best way is for surfacing solutions to complex problems: Probing - Sensing - Responding. The idea was quickly probed by the presenter (using a visual 'storyboard'), he/she then sensed the feedback and reaction of the team that listened, and he/she then went back to his/her own team to respond.
The team had great fun while doing this workshop, the outcome of the session had much more depth and variety in terms of the directions they will now start testing and experimenting with (probe-sense-respond on a bigger scale) than earlier, more traditional approaches had yielded.
The interesting thing to me was that I realized how much some of the methods and approaches from Design Thinking, Cynefin/Complexity Theory and the "Hamel/Strategos"-school of strategy actually have in common. One example:
- Design Thinking stresses the importance of prototyping - aimed at making ideas tangible through quick and dirty prototypes in order to learn from it and improve upon it.
- Cynefin advocates 'safe fail probes' as a way of making sense in the complex domain: testing ideas/solution, sensing the impact and responding to this by either amplifying the probe or surpressing it.
- And my friends at Strategos taught me the value of rapid, cost-effective de-risking by doing experiments in an early stage of the process to test critical assumptions or components of the new idea/concept and using the insights to adapt the design.
Sounds very similar, doesn't it? I wonder why - is this just so plain obvious that everyone follows this approach (but if so, why don't we see more businesses prototyping/probing/experimenting rather than analysing/paralysing new ideas to death?) or is it a case of great minds think alike and is there a confluence of thinking that follows similar principles?
Anyway, in the workshop, the team liked the approach, it was new to them, and they got very intrigued by the Cynefin framework. I shared with them the above visualization of the framework (courtesy of Shawn Callahan of Anecdote, a fellow Cognitive Edge Accredited Practitioner). Shawn Callahan also made this very useful short clip explaining the Cynefin framework.
I think the clip really explains Dave Snowden's thinking on the Cynefin framework well. Hope you will find it useful. And I am eager to learn how you have successfully used or combined concepts, methods or principles from Design Thinking, Complexity Theory/Cynefin and the Hamel/Strategos school to Innovation matters and/or how you interpret the similarities in these approaches?