Cynefin and The Beast…

…from the East


Icy walking and the collapse into chaos

The Beast from the East (with a side order of Storm Emma) turned my home town into a friction-free zone on Friday. Rain on top of snow, freezing on contact, left roads, pavements and driveways covered in smooth, clear ice thick enough to skate on.  

It provided me with a lovely example of what that curly bit at the bottom of Dave Snowden‘s Cynefin framework represents.   It’s that catastrophic shift from obvious to chaotic that can occur when we’re faithfully following our best practices without noticing that the environment has changed around us.


Stepping out of my front door on a Friday morning is an action I would generally classify as ‘obvious’ if it wasn’t so obvious that I don’t classify it at all.  I don’t think about it, but I employ best practices like putting on my shoes and locking the door behind me.  I follow a routine: open door, step through door, close door…..


……and suddenly this time I’m in a different domain altogether, sliding down the path towards the road doing an intricate stepping routine that would have Torvill and Dean on their feet in wonder.

This state didn’t last long. A few seconds later I’m clinging to the gate post contemplating what comes next, realising that I’m in an unfamiliar complex environment and that the unconscious stroll down the road will now have to be a very conscious sequences of carefully controlled movements instead. Every step becomes a mini-experiment. Is the grass as slippery as the pavement? Does it help if I slide rather than walk? What state is the road in?

Every corner presents a new challenge in an environment that was oh so familiar yesterday. How do I handle that slope? I never realised there wasn’t a wall here. I’ll never get back up there, what’s my best alternative route?

I saw a lot of emergent practice on my short walk: human chains to cross a road with a camber, several variations of ‘the more points of contact the better’. I even spotted a couple of guys tying ropes across the entrance to some apartments for others to use as a hand rail – making that particular 4m section one of the easier bits.

I saw experts on skates and snowboards who didn’t need to experiment so overtly.  I saw clever folk who had realised the environment had changed dramatically and employed good practice to avoid the chaos – one chap was happily strolling around in his golf spikes with a big smile on his face.  I’d have mugged him, but I couldn’t catch him up.


One thought on “Cynefin and The Beast…

  1. […] There’s an anti-pattern too.  Dogmatically following process can itself be a reason why you don’t notice a situational change – dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s without reading the words, so to speak.  In Cynefin terms this is the drop from obvious into chaos […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s