Cynefin Foundations – Learning Journal – Module 2

Previous – Cynefin Foundations – Learning Journal – Module 1

A learning journal containing my ah-ha moments, puzzles and learning notes as I complete the Cynefin Foundations Online course

Module 2 Topics:

  1. The difference between a sense-making and categorization framework
  2. How Cynefin™ informs decision-making and different types of action
  3. How humans divide Order into two domains: Obvious and Complicated
  4. How to engage a team or group workshop in making sense of situations using the Cynefin™ framework by categorisation situations

3 Ah-ha Moments:

  • There is a “pathway” to move through the domains. For example from Complex to Obvious. I hadn’t previously understood the nature of movement through the domains so this was good learning. Expanded further in notes below.
  • Cynefin is a sense-making framework NOT a model
    • A model seeks to represent reality. A framework is a way to look at reality
  • Data should inform the framework. Avoid categorisation instead of sense-making

2 Unanswered Questions:

  • What case studies/examples exist of organisations moving a challenge/solution through the domains?
  • What indicators exist to inform what stage/section/level of the domain model you are in? For example, Heretics v Group Think

1 Next Step:

  • Explore and experiment with movement throughout all the domains

Learning Notes:

Domain Models and Movement:

  • Core to the Cynefin Framework is the movement between domains. For example, from Complex to Complicated and vice versa.
  • In addition, there is movement within a domain itself. Within complex domain for example.
  • This movement is described in 3×3 matrices for each domain. 

Complex Domain Matrix

Within the complex domain, to act you need :

    • Some degree of evidence as coherence
    • People have to buy in to some degree to allow you to do experiments.


  • Nature of Evidence:
    • Beyond reasonable doubt – Point where problem starts to transfer into complicated domain (Liminal state)
    • Inductive –  Evidence it works in several cases it’s starting to go in the right direction
    • Gut feel or intuition – May not pass coherence tests
  • Degree of acceptance
    • On a small number of people, a Cognoscenti really get this right, this is an elite
    • Orthodox – accepted to most people come
    • Synchrony – That means everybody is walking in step, and there’s no dissent anymore

Line of coherence

  • The lowest energy route through the domain is : Safe-to-fail experiments > Projects and itiaitives > Ready for Exploitation.

“Stages” within the domain

  • Heretics and Mavericks – Most good ideas end up here, a small group of people who know this is true, but nobody believes. These are people who actually do see a new way of working, but they have no way of explaining it to the wider organization, it’s the guy who created digital photography in Kodak, but Kodak doesn’t believe there’s any future of it. 
  • Skunkworks – Work on secret projects to build coherence and ability to “tell the story” to convince others
  • Coaching and Mediation – Find people with time, who have the trust of senior management. Because if you can convince them, their approval, will convince other senior managers.
  • Break it up fast, zero tolerance  – Often where people have accepted a “management fad” with little of no evidence of it’s value. Key action here is to break up the group of “believers” before it gets more traction
  • Groupthink – The belief of the group takes hold. High acceptance of ideas based upon group “gut feel”
  • Challenge the evidence – 
  • Portfolio of Safe to fail experiments – Highly novel ideas, only a small number of people understand it. And that’s where you run safety fail experimentation, or you do things like triplet programming prototyping.

Complicated Domain Model:





Learning Journal – Adaptive Capacity

3 Bullet Summary

  • Adaptive Capacity relates to a systems ability to respond to a stress trigger. This response could be for protection, safety or to take advantage of a new sudden opportunity. Therefore it is not always a “negative” response. Likely organisations with greater adaptive response will have greater success.
  • Adaptive Capacity is widely used within Climate Change context. Especially with regards to the ability for local communities to adapt to the sudden changes forced on them by climate change (Videos below are good examples)
  • Leveraging the power of networks seems to be a key enabler of Adaptive Capacity. In particular, informal networks are described many times as a way to build adaptive capacity within a system.

2 Bullet Quotes

  • “Broadly speaking it may be described as the ability or capacity of a system to modify or change its characteristics or behaviour so as to cope better with existing or anticipated external stresses.” [4]
  • “Adaptive capacity is strengthened by the existence of networks and mechanisms that encourage participation and prevent marginalisation.” [6]

1 Bullet Action

  • Explore more the what influences the adaptive capacity within organisational systems

Adaptive Capacity is concept discussed breifly in Part 3 of this discussion – Learning Journal – Organisational Design with Dave Snowden and friends


  • Broadly speaking it may be described as the ability or capacity of a system to modify or change its characteristics or behaviour so as to cope better with existing or anticipated external stresses. [4]
  • Adaptive capacity relates to the capacity of systems, institutions, humans and other organisms to adjust to potential damage, to take advantage of opportunities, or to respond to consequences. [1]
  • The term adaptive capacity refers to an organization’s ability to change:
    • in response to changed circumstances— survival—and
    • in pursuit of enhanced results—creation. [3]


  • In the context of coupled socio-ecological social systems, adaptive capacity is commonly associated with following characteristics:
    • the ability of institutions and networks to learn, and store knowledge and experience.
    • creative flexibility in decision making, transitioning and problem solving
    • the existence of power structures that are responsive and consider the needs of all stakeholders. [1]
  • Adaptive capacity is strengthened by the existence of networks and mechanisms that encourage participation and prevent marginalisation. [6]
  • Local Adaptive Capacity Framework [5]


Factors that influence Adaptive Capacity

Factor WHO Example [7] Toby’s link to Organisational Context
Economic Wealth Economic Resources Wealthy nations are better able to adapt because they have the economic resources to invest, and to offset the costs of adaptation. In general, poverty enhances vulnerability Organisations with better economic health have greater adaptive capacity. Offset impacts from shocks and invest when opportunities arise.
Technology Access to technology in key sectors and settings (e.g., agriculture, water resources, health-care, urban design) is an important determinant of adaptive capacity.

Caution:  Technological solutions mis-applied will impact Adaptive Capacity: Poorly designed coastal “defences” may increase vulnerability to tidal surges if they engender false security and promote low-lying coastal settlements.

Degree to which processes are automated and supported by technology. For example, organisations with good work from home technology capabilities could enable employees to continue woking easily through COVID.
Information and Skills In general, countries with more “human capital” or knowledge have greater adaptive capacity. Illiteracy increases a population’s
vulnerability to many problems.
Skill set and engagement levels of employees will determine adaptive capacity.
Infrastructure Infrastructure specifically designed to reduce vulnerability to climate variability (e.g., flood control structures, air conditioning, and building insulation) and general public health infrastructure (e.g., sanitation facilities, wastewater treatment systems, laboratory buildings) enhance adaptive capacity. However, infrastructure (especially if immovable) can be adversely affected by climate, especially extreme events such as floods and hurricanes. Leveraging elastic cloud capabilities creates more adaptive capacity. Rather than an internal data centre capacity which might be fixed.
Institutions  Collaboration between public and private sectors can enhance adaptive capacity. Degree to which employees are involved in organisational decision making will influence adaptive capacity.
Equity Adaptive capacity is likely to be greater when access to resources within a community, nation, or the world is equitably distributed. Under-resourced and marginal populations lack adaptive resources Degree to which power and knowledge is shared throughout the organisational system will influence adaptive capacity. For example, access to data for local decision making will increase adaptive capacity.
  • In addition to above:
    • Adaptive capacity is also a function of current population health status and pre-existing disease burdens. [7]….. So therefore….
    • Adaptive capacity is also a function of current organisational health status and pre-existing disease burdens.

Organisational Context

Adaptive organizations are acutely conscious of their interdependence with their environment and their need to leverage capacity, resources and allies from outside the organization. They look not only to adapt nimbly to their environments but also, when possible, to adapt their environments to them. [3]

Organizational performance—the “ability to allocate resources, innovate, adapt, and
solve problems, both routine and radical—is related to … organizational architecture.”
Those who have studied complex systems, such as the social and institutional ecology
that revolves around organizations, have discovered that these systems have a specific
architecture: Unlike organizations, that architecture does not take a corporate form. It
often isn’t even formally structured. That architecture is networks. [3]

Like other capacity building efforts, adaptive capacity is not a summit that can be
conquered and a flag planted. It is something organizations pursue in an ongoing manner through measures that embed the four attributes of adaptive capacity —external focus, network connectedness, inquisitiveness and innovation—inextricably in the corporate culture. [3]

Questions to explore Adaptive Capacity [6]

  1. What is the nature of the system/population being assessed?
  2. What are the principal hazards faced by this system/population?
  3. What are the major impacts of these hazards and which elements/groups of the system/population are most vulnerable to these hazards?
  4. Why are these elements/groups particularly vulnerable?
  5. What measures would reduce the vulnerability of these elements/groups?
  6. What are the factors that determine whether these measures are taken?
  7. Can we assess these factors in order to measure the capacity of the system population to implement these measures?
  8. What are the external and internal barriers to the implementation of these measures?
  9. How can capacity constraints be removed from key barriers to adaptation?

Assessment Example [6]:


Narratives from in the field:










60 Second Summary: Beyond Command and Control – John Seddon

3 Big Ideas

    1. To optimise organisational performance you need to focus on three things:
      • Knowledge of customer demand
      • Appreciation of what constitutes the value work, what matters to the customers
      • Understanding how to measure the system’s achievement of purpose in customer terms
    2. Managers must experience the customers pain first-hand in order for the system to change. Meaningful change will not happen if customer pain and innovations are presented in their offices. Managers must “get out of their chairs” and spend a significant amount of time with customers. It is only through feeling the emotion of customer pain that managers will be inspired to make change. Studying the system is the vital first step.
    3. Two key measures
      • Capacity – The volume of demands we can service.
      • Capability  – How well we do them measured in terms that matter to customers. Timeliness, right first time etc.


Learning how to see is a critical skill management need to learn

The vital purpose for leaders, is to gain knowledge of how the system generates and keeps customers

1 Action

  • Help facilitate more direct interaction between Management and the customers. Create conditions where they can feel the emotions of their customers. Amplify the feeling between management and customers.

If you have more time… Image result for clock icon

A video explaining many of the concepts highlighted in the book:

My reading highlights:

What is command and control management?

  • Leaders often copy what they see from other organisations after going on “digital safaris”. These run traps of leaders assuming what they see are the ingredients for success rather than the hidden parts of the system
  • Even successful change can be quickly undone
  • Everything you need to know is there in your own system. If you have eyes to see it.
  • Learning how to see is a critical skill management need to learn
  • Empowerment is a command or control term, ie the boss empowers you the subordinate.
  • Command and control definition:
    • A top down perspective, in which work is divided into functional specialisms
    • Decision making is separated from the work
    • Measures in use are related to the budget and worker activity
  • Error is assuming the problem with command and control is about bosses being bossy. The problem are the control measures. Which means that bosses are bossy about the wrong things!

The Nature of Change:

  • Managers often evaluate change proposals and programmes in the abstract and at a distance.Intermediation.
  • For real change to happen leaders must Disintermediate. Experience the pain. It is vital!
  • Key to intervention theory is the work of the US academic Chris Argyris
  • To change your mental model requires double loop learning. Questioning the assumptions behind one’s beliefs, single loop learning by contrast is to repeat attempts at the same problem for example.
  • Three ways to affect change in human systems:
    • Rational (Presentations)
    • Normative (Through experience)
    • Coercive
  • Rational strategies usually results with dissonance with counterproductive consequences.
  • Command or Control leaders won’t give up their current controls until they have witnessed firsthand how they destabilise and send the system
  • Leaders pace dictates.
  • Managers need to go through a Normative learning process. Only through experiencing the pain points of their customers will they feel emotionally connected to the problem and have the desire to enable change. The intervention is crucial to anchor the perspective in and outside in customer’s point of view.
  • The way people work together, behaviour and values, improves when they work in a better system with a sound purpose
  • A bad system will beat a good person every time.

A different approach – Vanguard Method:

  • To optimise organisational performance focus on:
    • Knowledge of customer demand
    • Appreciation of what constitutes the value work, what matters to the customers
    • Understanding how to measure the system’s achievement of purpose in customer terms
  • Most back office organisations optimised for:
    • Cost of transactions
    • Standardisation
    • Activity management
  • The work is a handicapped by the system and the system belongs to management
  • Two key measures:
    • Capacity – The volume of demands we can service.
    • Capability  – How well we do them measured in terms that matter to customers. Timeliness, right first time etc.

Problems with traditional controls and budget management:

  • Budget Management is the primary tool of command and control managers.
  • Treating all demands as work to be done leads to volumes of failure demand embedded in the system. A giant cuckoo in the nest greedily consuming capacity and effort to remind you what we’re talking about here in financial services failure demand frequently runs between 40 and 70% of the total.
  • You must change the measure of control for the system in order to change behaviour.
  • Three essential means of control:
    • Demand
    • Value Work
    • Achievement of purpose
  • Example of cross-functional working outside of IT:
    • Home repairs: While a plaster is needed to plaster a wall, other trades can learn how to fit in cracks in other associated trades. This reduces lead time for customer and increases agility.
  • Russell Ackoff:
    •  All attempts to do the wrong thing righter only makes them wronger.
  • Managing costs causes costs.
  • IT teams are often managed by system measures that drive sub-optimisation:
    • Utilisation
    • Billable time
    • Target dates
    • Activity
  • Having learned how managing costs drives costs up instead. Managements focus is on managing value by which we mean designing services to ensure customers get what they need. 

Study Demand:

  • Understanding demand is management treasure, a lever for improvement that is simply out of reach to command and control management teams.
  • Knowledge of customer demand is the most important lever.
  • The vital purpose for leaders, is to gain knowledge of how the system generates and keeps customers.
  • Leadership expertise required is simply, the competence to listen. Understand, and help the citizen be clear about what matters to them.
  • Take an “outside in” perspective. That is standing in the customers shoes, rather than top down, and work is designed according to the principles of demand value and flow, just doing the value work. Instead of being divided into functional specialisms decision making is integrated with work and conventional measures are either abandoned or relegated to lagging status, not used for making decisions.
  • To make change, managers first need to study the system. However many managers struggle to find any time. Their time is taken up with command and control management. Monitoring activity, managing the works and managing costs. Most managers delegate the change work to other people in their teams.
  • Upon studying demand most managers will be emotionally shocked at what they find. Most cannot ignore the dysfunction they find.
  • The management factory. Divide between operations and management. Those are the two systems, not one. Getting on in the management factory is dependent on having and being able to present good ideas, or at least perceived as good by current norms. Usually, management factory intervene but never stay around long enough to see if the interventions had even been delivered, let alone whether they were effective or not. In the management factory initiatives are usually evaluate or being on plan, rather than actually working, there’s so much change or interference going on, that it’s difficult to attribute outcomes to any one initiative. Even substantial failure, such as channels stuffed with failure demand is often invisible to leaders because of the blind spots in their control systems. Gary Hamel estimates that in US organisations, as much as 80% of the workforce is employed in the management factory


  • Start without IT. The first design has to be manual. Simple physical means like pin boards tea cards, spreadsheets. Record the job, and what matters to the customer. 
  • Starting with IT often just recreates a broken system in a digital form. It rarely has a positive or meaningful change to customer value
  • Many change agents use planned improvement conjecture in business cases as evidence of delivered improvement
  • HR are posed with a dilemma. Most improvements to performance come from changes to the system yet most HR practices focuses in development and management of the individual.

60 Second Summary: How To Be an Antiracist – Ibram X. Kendi

3 Big Ideas

  1. It is critical to have a common definition of key terms. You cannot engage in productive dialogue about racism unless you have a shared understanding of terms. Definitions within the book:
    1. Racist – One who is supporting a racist policy through their actions or inaction or expressing a racist idea. 
    2. Anti-racist – One who is supporting an antiracist policy through their actions or expressing an antiracist idea. 
    3. Racism – Racism is a marriage of racist policies and racist ideas that produces and normalizes racial inequities. 
    4. Anti-racism – Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas. 
  2. Many people say they are not-racist but that is not enough. It is not enough to be neutral. Through neutrality you enable racism You are either racist or anti-racist.
  3. Racist ideas can come from both Assimilationist and Segregationist Ideas:
    1. Assimilationist Ideas – Black people are inferior by nurture. Belief that inferiority has come through nurture.
    2. Segregationist Ideas – black people are inferior by nature. They will never be as good as whites.


“White supremacists are the ones supporting policies that benefit racist power against the interests of the majority of White people. White supremacists claim to be pro-White but refuse to acknowledge that climate change is having a disastrous impact on the earth White people inhabit. They oppose affirmative-action programs, despite White women being their primary beneficiaries. White supremacists rage against Obamacare even as 43 percent of the people who gained lifesaving health insurance from 2010 to 2015 were White.”

“Whenever the antiracist sees individuals behaving positively or negatively, the antiracist sees exactly that: individuals behaving positively or negatively, not representatives of whole races. To be antiracist is to deracialize behavior, to remove the tattooed stereotype from every racialized body. Behavior is something humans do, not races.”

1 Action

Don’t be not-racist be anti-racist. Follow the examples set within the book for anti-racist actions and expressions. Example:

  • To be antiracist is to see all cultures in all their differences as on the same level, as equals. When we see cultural difference, we are seeing cultural difference—nothing more, nothing less.

If you have more time… Image result for clock icon

You may also like: 60 Second Summary: Biased – Dr Jennifer Eberhardt

Video Summary of key concepts:


RACISTOne who is supporting a racist policy through their actions or inaction or expressing a racist idea.
ANTIRACISTOne who is supporting an antiracist policy through their actions or expressing an antiracist idea.
RACISIMRacism is a marriage of racist policies and racist ideas that produces and normalizes racial inequities.
ANTI-RACISIMAntiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.
RACIST INEQUITYRacial inequity is when two or more racial groups are not standing on approximately equal footing. Here’s an example of racial inequity
RACIST POLICIESA racist policy is any measure that produces or sustains racial inequity between racial groups. An antiracist policy is any measure that produces or sustains racial equity between racial groups. By policy, I mean written and unwritten laws, rules, procedures, processes, regulations, and guidelines that govern people. There is no such thing as a nonracist or race-neutral policy. Every policy in every institution in every community in every nation is producing or sustaining either racial inequity or equity between racial groups.
RACIST IDEASA racist idea is any idea that suggests one racial group is inferior or superior to another racial group in any way.
ASSIMILATIONISTOne who is expressing the racist idea that a racial group is culturally or behaviorally inferior and is supporting cultural or behavioral enrichment programs to develop that racial group.
SEGREGATIONISTOne who is expressing the racist idea that a permanently inferior racial group can never be developed and is supporting policy that segregates away that racial group.
RACEA power construct of collected or merged difference that lives socially.
BIOLOGICAL RACISTOne who is expressing the idea that the races are meaningfully different in their biology and that these differences create a hierarchy of value.
BIOLOGICAL ANTIRACISTOne who is expressing the idea that the races are meaningfully the same in their biology and there are no genetic racial differences.
ETHNIC RACISMA powerful collection of racist policies that lead to inequity between racialized ethnic groups and are substantiated by racist ideas about racialized ethnic groups.
ETHNIC ANTIRACISMA powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to equity between racialized ethnic groups and are substantiated by antiracist ideas about racialized ethnic groups.
BODILY RACISTOne who is perceiving certain racialized bodies as more animal-like and violent than others. 
CULTURAL RACISTOne who is creating a cultural standard and imposing a cultural hierarchy among racial groups.
CULTURAL ANTIRACISTOne who is rejecting cultural standards and equalizing cultural differences among racial groups.
BEHAVIORAL RACISTOne who is making individuals responsible for the perceived behavior of racial groups and making racial groups responsible for the behavior of individuals.
BEHAVIORAL ANTIRACISTOne who is making racial group behavior fictional and individual behavior real.
COLORISMA powerful collection of racist policies that lead to inequities between Light people and Dark people, supported by racist ideas about Light and Dark people. 
ANTI-WHITE RACISTOne who is classifying people of European descent as biologically, culturally, or behaviorally inferior or conflating the entire race of White people with racist power.
POWERLESS DEFENSEThe illusory, concealing, disempowering, and racist idea that Black people can’t be racist because Black people don’t have power.
CLASS RACISTOne who is racializing the classes, supporting policies of racial capitalism against those race-classes, and justifying them by racist ideas about those race-classes. 
SPACE RACISMA powerful collection of racist policies that lead to resource inequity between racialized spaces or the elimination of certain racialized spaces, which are substantiated by racist ideas about racialized spaces.
SPACE ANTIRACISMA powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity between integrated and protected racialized spaces, which are substantiated by antiracist ideas about racialized spaces.
GENDER RACISMA powerful collection of racist policies that lead to inequity between race-genders and are substantiated by racist ideas about race-genders.
GENDER ANTIRACISMA powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to equity between race-genders and are substantiated by anti-racist ideas about race-genders.
QUEER RACISMA powerful collection of racist policies that lead to inequity between race-sexualities and are substantiated by racist ideas about race-sexualities.
QUEER ANTIRACISMA powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to equity between race-sexualities and are substantiated by antiracist ideas about race-sexualities.
ACTIVISTOne who has a record of power or policy change.


  • Origins of Race:
    • French poet Jacques de Brézé first used the term “race” in a 1481 hunting poem. In 1606, the same diplomat who brought the addictive tobacco plant to France formally defined race for the first time in a major European dictionary. “Race … means descent,” 6 Jean Nicot wrote in the Trésor de la langue française. “Therefore, it is said that a man, a horse, a dog, or another animal is from a good or bad race.” From the beginning, to make races was to make racial hierarchy.
    • Beginning in 1735, Carl Linnaeus locked in the racial hierarchy of humankind in Systema Naturae.He color-coded the races as White, Yellow, Red, and Black. He attached each race to one of the four regions of the world and described their characteristics. The Linnaeus taxonomy became the blueprint that nearly every enlightened race maker followed and that race makers still follow today.
  • Race is a mirage but one that humanity has organized itself around in very real ways.
  • Avoid color-blindness:
    • The gift of seeing myself as Black instead of being color-blind is that it allows me to clearly see myself historically and politically as being an antiracist, as a member of the interracial body striving to accept and equate and empower racial difference of all kinds.
    • Assimilationists believe in the post-racial myth that talking about race constitutes racism, or that if we stop identifying by race, then racism will miraculously go away. They fail to realize that if we stop using racial categories, then we will not be able to identify racial inequity. If we cannot identify racial inequity, then we will not be able to identify racist policies. If we cannot identify racist policies, then we cannot challenge racist policies. If we cannot challenge racist policies, then racist power’s final solution will be achieved: a world of inequity none of us can see, let alone resist. Terminating racial categories is potentially the last, not the first, step in the antiracist struggle.
  • Race creates new forms of power: the power to categorize and judge, elevate and downgrade, include and exclude. Race makers use that power to process distinct individuals, ethnicities, and nationalities into monolithic races.
  • We have the causality wrong:Systems Maps - General (14)
  • We often see and remember the race and not the individual. This is racist categorizing, this stuffing of our experiences with individuals into color-marked racial closets. An antiracist treats and remembers individuals as individuals. “She acted that way,” we should say, “because she is racist.”
  • “Microaggression,” the constant verbal and nonverbal abuse racist White people unleash on Black people wherever we go, day after day.
    • A White woman grabs her purse when a Black person sits next to her.
    • The seat next to a Black person stays empty on a crowded bus.
    • A White woman calls the cops at the sight of Black people barbecuing in the park.
    • White people telling us that our firmness is anger or that our practiced talents are natural.
    • Mistaking us for the only other Black person around.
    • Calling the cops on our children for selling lemonade on the street.
    • Butchering Ebonics for sport.
    • Assuming we are the help.
    • Assuming the help isn’t brilliant.
    • Asking us questions about the entire Black race.
    • Not giving us the benefit of the doubt.
    • Calling the cops on us for running down the street.
  • I do not use “microaggression” anymore. I detest the post-racial platform that supported its sudden popularity. I detest its component parts—“ micro” and “aggression.” A persistent daily low hum of racist abuse is not minor. I use the term “abuse” because aggression is not as exacting a term. Abuse accurately describes the action and its effects on people: distress, anger, worry, depression, anxiety, pain, fatigue, and suicide.


  • We practice ethnic racism when we express a racist idea about an ethnic group or support a racist policy toward an ethnic group. Ethnic racism, like racism itself, points to group behavior, instead of policies, as the cause of disparities between groups. When Ghanaian immigrants to the United States join with White Americans and say African Americans are lazy, they are recycling the racist ideas of White Americans about African Americans. This is ethnic racism.
  • To be antiracist is to view national and transnational ethnic groups as equal in all their differences. To be antiracist is to challenge the racist policies that plague racialized ethnic groups across the world. To be antiracist is to view the inequities between all racialized ethnic groups as a problem of policy.
  • In the fable, a man and lion travel together, arguing over who is superior. They pass a statue that shows a lion strangled by a man. The man says, “See there! How strong we are, and how we prevail over even the king of beasts.” The lion replies, “This statue was made by one of you men. If we lions knew how to erect statues, you would see the man placed under the paw of the lion.” Whoever creates the cultural standard usually puts themself at the top of the hierarchy.
  • To be antiracist is to see all cultures in all their differences as on the same level, as equals. When we see cultural difference, we are seeing cultural difference—nothing more, nothing less.


  • One of racism’s harms is the way it falls on the unexceptional Black person who is asked to be extraordinary just to survive—and, even worse, the Black screwup who faces the abyss after one error, while the White screwup is handed second chances and empathy.
  • To be an antiracist is to recognize there is no such thing as racial behavior. To be an antiracist is to recognize there is no such thing as Black behavior, let alone irresponsible Black behavior. Black behavior is as fictitious as Black genes. There is no “Black gene.” No one has ever scientifically established a single “Black behavioral trait.”
  • The use of standardized tests to measure aptitude and intelligence is one of the most effective racist policies ever devised to degrade Black minds and legally exclude Black bodies. We degrade Black minds every time we speak of an “academic-achievement gap” based on these numbers. The acceptance of an academic-achievement gap is just the latest method of reinforcing the oldest racist idea: Black intellectual inferiority.
  • Alternatives:
    • What if we measured intelligence by how knowledgeable individuals are about their own environments?
    • What if we measured intellect by an individual’s desire to know?
    • What if we realized the best way to ensure an effective educational system is not by standardizing our curricula and tests but by standardizing the opportunities available to all students?
  • As long as the mind thinks there is something behaviorally wrong with a racial group, the mind can never be antiracist. As long as the mind oppresses the oppressed by thinking their oppressive environment has retarded their behavior, the mind can never be antiracist. As long as the mind is racist, the mind can never be free.
  • Whenever the antiracist sees individuals behaving positively or negatively, the antiracist sees exactly that: individuals behaving positively or negatively, not representatives of whole races. To be antiracist is to deracialize behavior, to remove the tattooed stereotype from every racialized body. Behavior is something humans do, not races.


  • Colorism is a collection of racist policies that cause inequities between Light people and Dark people, and these inequities are substantiated by racist ideas about Light and Dark people.
  • White people usually favor lighter-skinned politicians over darker-skinned ones. Research studies from the book highlights:
    • Dark African Americans are disproportionately at risk of hypertension.
    • Dark African American students receive significantly lower GPAs than Light students.
    • Maybe because racist Americans have higher expectations for Light students, people tend to remember educated Black men as Light-skinned even when their skin is Dark.
    • Even Dark Filipino men have lower incomes than their lighter peers in the United States.
    • Dark immigrants to the United States, no matter their place of origin, tend to have less wealth and income than Light immigrants.
    • When they arrive, Light Latinx people receive higher wages, and Dark Latinx people are more likely to be employed at ethnically homogeneous jobsites.
    • Dark sons and Light daughters receive higher-quality parenting than Light sons and Dark daughters.
    • Dark African Americans receive the harshest prison sentences and more time behind bars.
    • Dark female students are nearly twice as likely to be suspended as White female students, while researchers found no disparity between Light and White female students.
    • Inequities between Light and Dark African Americans can be as wide as inequities between Black and White Americans.
  • To be an antiracist is to diversify our standards of beauty like our standards of culture or intelligence, to see beauty equally in all skin colors, broad and thin noses, kinky and straight hair, light and dark eyes.
  • In the 1980s, Light children were adopted first, had higher incomes, and were less likely to be trapped in public housing and prisons. “The lighter the skin, the lighter the sentence” became a popular antiracist saying as the era of mass incarceration surged in the 1990s.
  • India, “fairness” creams topped $ 200 million in 2014.63 Today, skin lighteners are used by 70 percent of women in Nigeria; 35 percent in South Africa; 59 percent in Togo; and 40 percent in China, Malaysia, the Philippines, and South Korea. 64
  • Surveys show that people consider tanned skin—the replica color of Light people—more attractive than naturally pale skin and Dark skin.

White Racism:

  • To be antiracist is to never mistake the global march of White racism for the global march of White people. To be antiracist is to never mistake the antiracist hate of White racism for the racist hate of White people. To be antiracist is to never conflate racist people with White people, knowing there are antiracist Whites and racist non-Whites. To be antiracist is to see ordinary White people as the frequent victimizers of people of color and the frequent victims of racist power. Donald Trump’s economic policies are geared toward enriching White male power—but at the expense of most of his White male followers, along with the rest of us.
  • Claims of anti-White racism in response to antiracism are as old as civil rights. When Congress passed the (first) Civil Rights Act of 1866, it made Black people citizens of the United States, stipulated their civil rights, and stated that state law could not “deprive a person of any of these rights on the basis of race.” President Andrew Johnson reframed this antiracist bill as a “bill made to operate in favor of the colored against the white race.” Racist Americans a century later framed supporters of affirmative action as “hard-core racists of reverse discrimination,” to quote former U.S. solicitor general Robert Bork in The Wall Street Journal in 1978. When Alicia Garza typed “Black Lives Matter” 23 on Facebook in 2013 and when that love letter crested into a movement in 2015, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani called the movement “inherently racist.”
  • White supremacists are the ones supporting policies that benefit racist power against the interests of the majority of White people. White supremacists claim to be pro-White but refuse to acknowledge that climate change is having a disastrous impact on the earth White people inhabit. They oppose affirmative-action programs, despite White women being their primary beneficiaries. White supremacists rage against Obamacare even as 43 percent of the people who gained lifesaving health insurance from 2010 to 2015 were White.
  • White supremacist is code for anti-White, and White supremacy is nothing short of an ongoing program of genocide against the White race. In fact, it’s more than that: White supremacist is code for anti-human, a nuclear ideology that poses an existential threat to human existence.

Facts and Research from Book:

  • During the 2013–14 academic year, Black students were four times more likely than White students to be suspended from public schools, according to Department of Education data.
  • Black people comprise 13 percent of the U.S. population. And yet, in 2015, Black bodies accounted for at least 26 percent of those killed by police, 12 declining slightly to 24 percent in 2016, 22 percent in 2017, and 21 percent in 2018, according to The Washington Post.
  • Unarmed Black bodies—which apparently look armed to fearful officers—are about twice as likely to be killed as unarmed White bodies.
  • In Pennsylvania, a recent statewide study found that at any given poverty level, districts with a higher proportion of White students receive significantly more funding than districts with more students of color.


Learning Journal – Organisational Design with Dave Snowden and friends

3 Big Ideas

  1. Design scaffolding for your organisational interventions.
  2. Focus on Sympoietic Systems rather than Autopoietic Systems
  3. Understand the temporal nature of your organisational design interventions


“Management interventions often destroy value that already existed.”

“Adaptive Capacity is like a budget. When you use it all the organisation can become very rigid and freeze. Similar to our fear capacity. As we increase fear humans can freeze. Creating the right amount of Adaptive Capacity within an organisation is important” Jabe Bloom

1 Action

One action I will take as a result of this learning is:

  • Investigate Energy Gradients further in Complex systems

***NOTES FROM PART 1 & 2***

Informal vs Formal Networks

  • Both exist within an organisation
  • Majority of organisational learning (70%) happens in the informal networks
  • Learn to amplify and foster informal networks. Risk many organisations do is dampen them instead
  • Trust
    • Automatic within Informal Networks (Because people can opt-in or out)
    • High energy cost to create trust within a formal network. Conditions are not present for trust to emerge easily.
  • Example to foster Informal Networks: Create an attractor that pulls people into the system then distribute the cognition across the organisation
  • Informal networks act as Scaffolding

Organisational Energy Gradients:

  • Lower energy gradients enable faster learning
  • Higher energy gradients its harder to learn and change

Temporal Categorisation of organisational design interventions:

  • Stable – Intended to be fixed over time once introduced
  • Plastic – Change over time
  • Ephemeral – Lasts for a very short amount of time. Not valuable after intervention

Categorisation is important:

  • Avoids over investment in intervention – Don’t over invest Ephemeral interventions. They are meant to be throw away
  • Easier to add to organisations than remove. Easier to scale than descale. Removing roles, titles, badges, rules, policies is very difficult
  • As a result Ephemeral interventions are the hardest. Be careful to dispose of the intervention (Take the scaffolding down)

Common trap: Hope Despair Cycle

  • Caused by designing for an ideal target state then trying to move towards that. You will end up in a hope and despair cycle
  • Instead define starting conditions and let the design emerge with a sense of direction
  • Evolve from the present moment not an ideal end state
  • Understand the conditions of the present moment. For example, your existing constraints
  • Spotify Example – Set organisation principles and let the design emerge
  • How things connect are more important than what they are

Crisis Management Golden Rules:

  1. Coordinate in centre, don’t make decisions. Distribute cognition and decision making.
  2. Communicate by engagement. Don’t communicate to people, engage in the problem with people so you can understand it. Disintermediation. Got to gemba.


  • Manufacturing Metaphor is pervasive and leads to perverse results
  • Organisations are more like an ecological system than manufacturing systems

Focus on Sympoietic Systems rather than Autopoietic Systems

  • Multi-team rather than individual teams
  • Connectons between teams rather than single units


Three types of team interactions:

  1. Collaboration – working together on discovery
  2. Service – provision of service between teams
  3. Facilitating – diagnosing issues, providing temporary support. Coaching mentoring guiding. Often SME’s

Boundary spanning is important. Middle managers can often perform this role well.

Organisational Scaffolding Examples:

  • Free breakfast for staff
  • Daily Stand Up
    • Both examples create the scaffolding for collaboration
    • Rituals in a physical space create connections
      • Example: Clap for carers in UK
    • Can scaffolding be designed or does it need to emerge?

Distribute cognition and decision making:

  • Put the power of organisational design into the power of people. Allow the design to emerge through self organisation.
  • Provide patterns and constraints to teams from which they can self-organise.
  • Avoid the grand design by management
  • People with the talent are excluding from the the process of organisational design
  • Managers want to make change happen rather than listening and understanding the system. Management interventions often destroy value that already existed.

Typical traps in traditional organisation design:

  • Mediation – Senior management abstracted from org design (often by consultants)
  • Cognition is not distributed (Analysts design the organisation in silo)
  • Working at abstract level rather than granular

Conflicting Goals:

  • Conflicting optimisation goals exist in organisation (vertical vs horizontal)
  • Utilisation problem – we max people out which increase the time to deliver and size of queue

Other soundbites:

  • If you give people data they will form conclusions too fast. Pattern will emerge in mind and then ignore subsequent data if it doesn’t conform to the belief created
  • The rules that worked at a small scale won’t work as the organisation scales. The solution is not linear.
  • If you can’t say why you can’t scale what
  • Create self-organising multi team systems – one self organising team is not sufficient
  • Organisational design should Optimise delivery value in eyes of customer
  • Identity is different from individuals. Within organisations we are often working with identities not individuals.
  • Crews –
  • Be aware of the corporate immune system –
  • False belief – if we just had better leaders our organisational will be better


Flaws with Traditional OD

  • OD traditional founded in Cybnetics model which is flawed
  • The issue is, it’s they’re they’re focused on designing the endpoint now you can’t do that in a complex system so you can’t design a fluid system. What you can do is you can manage the constraints.


  • Hierarchy is an important constraint – without a hierarchy there wouldn’t be Mavericks in friction in the system
  • Within a crisis hierarchy, chain of command, becomes vital
  • Hierarchy can create a healthy “back pressure” effect – If we don’t make this decision the manager will

Adaptive Capacity

  • Organisational Design should increase the Adaptive Capacity. The ability for an organisation to respond to change.
  • Adaptive Capacity is like a budget. When you use it all the organisation can become very rigid and freeze. Similar to our fear capacity. As we increase fear humans can freeze. Creating the right amount of Adaptive Capacity within an organisation is important
  • Low/Stable Environmental (Market forces, Societal issues etc.) Pressure – Organisation does not need much adaptive capacity. They can continue to make small adjustments as needed to the enable change.
  • High/Unstable Environmental Pressure – Organisation needs high adaptive capacity. Ability to refocus energy around a challenge quickly. Ability to reform the organisation around that challenge. Organisations with low adaptive capacity will quickly use up their available “adaptive budget” and freeze. Highly adaptive organisations can sense their environmental pressure and respond. They can also sense when the environment has changed and they can move back to more stable design.
  • How to create fluid structures? Especially when everything else in the organisation is rigid?

Decision Making:

  • Senior executives think their productivity is decision making
  • Product Owner is typically not  an effective role as other managers within the system over rule decisions.
  • There’s no such thing as a dysfunctional system. It is set up perfectly to get the results it’s getting so it serves somebody in some way
  • There’s a point where you reach a level of crisis, where consultation is effectively, an inhibiting constraint, not, enabling constraint
  • Big challenge today is so many people in senior positions have no experience in the functions of their teams. There are many general managers with no experience of how the work works. So they can only make decisions based on the centre of a normal distribution. So the minute you hit an environment where the distribution isn’t normal anymore they just lost, where some of you grown up in the environment would know what to do.
  • Part of the decentralisation of decision making is to re-skill the individuals who need to make decisions in order to increase the adaptive capacity of the organisation for times in which challenges occur

Challenges with “outsourcing” Organisational Design

  • Many big consultancies drive off the belief that “if you design your organisation like x, you will get the results company y are getting”
  • Big consultancies drive towards homogenous, monocultural organisational design. “Industry standards and consistency”
  • Dependency relationship is formed between the consultancy and the organisation
  • Many HR\OD departments have the CEO in a Stockholm syndrome relationship

Other Soundbites:

  • If something is sustainable in the informal system the energy cost of making it formal is very low. Whereas if something isn’t naturally present in the system the energy cost of creating it is very high.


60 Second Summary: Biased – Dr Jennifer Eberhardt

3 Big Ideas

  1. Bias negatively impacts Black people in almost all parts of society. Housing, Education, Criminal Justice, Employment etc. The bias is built into the system.
  2. Mental Priming and Fear are some of the primary drivers of bias. These factors are particularly present in the Criminal Justice System.
  3. Color blindness, ignoring race, can lead to negative impacts. When people focus on not seeing color, they may also fail to see discrimination.


“For the most part we do not first see, and then define, we define first and then see”

“The formulas used to calculate bail often rely on factors—job stability, arrest history, family resources—that circumstantially disadvantage young black men. Analysts estimate that the bail premium charged to black male defendants is 35 percent more than what white defendants pay”

1 Action

Seek feedback in moments of fear and high pressure when biases might be driving my thinking. This is when bias is most likely to occur.

If you have more time… Image result for clock icon

Facts and Figures from studies shared in the book:

  • In 2016, nearly a thousand people were killed in the United States by police officers.
  • Black people are stopped by police at disproportionate levels and are more likely to have force used upon them.
  • Only a fraction of officers involved in questionable shootings are prosecuted, and it’s rare to get a conviction.
  • 60 percent of the stops officers made in Oakland were of black people, although blacks made up only 28 percent of the Oakland population at the time. Blacks were disproportionately stopped even when we controlled for factors like the crime rate and the racial breakdown of residents in the areas where the stops took place.
  • Black drivers are twice as likely as white drivers to have been stopped for a high-discretion equipment violation as opposed to a moving violation.
  • While blacks made up 67 percent of Ferguson’s population, they accounted for 85 percent of vehicle stops and 90 percent of citations. And though black drivers were twice as likely to be searched by police, they were 26 percent less likely than whites to be found in possession of contraband.
  • The United States has the highest incarceration rate of any industrialized nation in the world. We account for only 4.4 percent of the world’s population but house 22 percent of the world’s prisoners. More than 2.1 million Americans were behind bars in 2017.
  • Although blacks make up just 12 percent of the U.S. population, nearly 40 percent of the nation’s prison inmates are black.
  • White people are likely to be a minority in this country, according to U.S. Census Bureau projections
  • More than half of white Americans—55 percent—believe there is discrimination against white people in the United States today, according to a 2017 survey by Harvard University’s School of Public Health

Categorization Biases:

  • A universal function of the brain that allows us to organize and manage the overload of stimuli that constantly bombard us.
  • This bias impedes our efforts to embrace and understand people who are deemed not like us
  • Out-group members, are not processed as deeply or attended to as carefully. 
  • The concept of stereotypes dates back to the time of Plato, whose dialogues explored the question of whether one’s perceptions correspond to the actual state of affairs.
  • “Other-race effect.” people are much better at recognizing faces of their own race than faces of other races
    • By the time babies are three months old, their brains react more strongly to faces of their own race than to faces of people unlike them

Bias and Perception:

  • Implicit bias can be layered and complicated. It’s simple to explain, but not so easy to see or to rectify.
  • Bias drives what we perceive, how we think, and the actions we take.
  • Research shows that fear can be a driver of bias. The same fear response that’s supposed to keep us safe can activate bias in ways that stigmatize and threaten others
  • Research shows that people tend to grossly overestimate the extent to which they will speak out against prejudice, particularly when they are not the target of the offense.
  • When someone seems foreign or unfamiliar or unpredictable, your gut reactions prepare you to be wary. That is when out-group bias can surface instinctively

Police Shootings:

  • Participants were even faster to respond “shoot” to a black person holding a gun than they were to a white person holding a gun.
  • More likely to mistakenly “shoot” a black person with no gun.
  • Racial bias was found both in the speed of response and in the decision whether to shoot. 

Criminal Justice System:

  • Arrest – 11 million arrest each year. Three-quarters for nonviolent offences
  • Bail – Many people cannot afford pre-trial bail. The formulas used to calculate bail often rely on factors—job stability, arrest history, family resources—that circumstantially disadvantage young black men. Analysts estimate that the bail premium charged to black male defendants is 35 percent more than what white defendants pay
  • Plea BargainingBlack defendants are more likely than whites, Asians, or Latinos to be offered plea deals that require prison time, particularly for drug-related crimes
  • DefenceBlacks are also more likely to rely on the free public defender system, which puts them at a distinct disadvantage. Black defendants who hire private attorneys are almost twice as likely to have the primary charge against them reduced than are the black clients of public defenders.
  • SentenceDecades of research have shown that murderers of white victims are significantly more likely to be sentenced to death than murderers of black people—even when controlling for nonracial factors that could influence sentencing.
  • Release –  The prison experience has been shown to dramatically deepen social inequality, marginalizing former inmates in almost every significant sphere


  • African Americans are more likely than any other group to live in segregated neighborhoods.
  • According to studies by sociologists Lincoln Quillian and Devah Pager, the more blacks there are in a community, the higher people imagine the crime rate to be—regardless of whether statistics bear that out. That correlates with fear and with bias.

Talking about Race:

  • Research shows that talking about racial issues with people of other races is particularly stressful for whites
    • Heart rates go up
    • Blood vessels constrict
    • Bodies prepare for a threat
    • Demonstrate cognitive depletion, struggling with simple things like word-recognition tasks.
  • Even thinking about talking about race can be emotionally demanding. In a study of how white people arranged the physical space when they knew they’d be in conversation with blacks, the arrangements varied based on the subject of those chats. When the study participants were told they’d be talking in small groups about love and relationships, they set the chairs close to one another. When they were told the topic was racial profiling, they put the chairs much farther apart.
  • As social psychologist Gordon Allport outlined in his 1954 classic, The Nature of Prejudice , contact has a much greater chance of piercing bias when the interactions meet these conditions:
    • equal status
    • condoned by authorities
    • personal rather than superficial.


  • Black students are nearly four times as likely to be suspended from school as their white peers, according to a study conducted by the U.S. Office for Civil Rights involving more than ninety-six thousand K–12 public schools.
  • Black students are significantly more likely to be disciplined for relatively minor infractions than any other group.
  • Thus begins a vicious cycle: As black students pull back, their teachers may become more frustrated with them, and as the teachers’ frustration grows, those students become even more inclined to disengage or act out.

Danger of color blindness:

  • One of the most common practices schools foster is the strategy of color blindness. Try not to notice color. Try not to think about color. If you don’t allow yourself to think about race, you can never be biased .
  • When people focus on not seeing color, they may also fail to see discrimination.
  • Encouraging children to remain blind to race dampened their detection of discrimination, which had ripple effects. Color blindness promoted exactly the opposite of what was intended: racial inequality. It left minority children to fend for themselves in an environment where the harms they endured could not be seen.


  • Today, the unemployment rate for black teens and young adults is about twice as high as it is for whites. At a time of life when critical work habits and life skills are developed, black teens in low-income neighborhoods—where businesses, restaurants, and retail outlets are sparse—have fewer options and face adult competition for entry-level jobs.
  • Historically, not only are blacks less likely to be employed than whites; they have worse jobs and earn less money. Many factors contribute to these disparities, including the quality of the applicant’s social networks marshaled to secure employment as well as the level of education, skills, or experience certain jobs require.
  • “Diversity” has been a corporate watchword since before they were born. That’s supposed to reflect an enthusiastic embrace of new perspectives and a willingness to hear and accommodate previously marginalized voices. Instead, it seems to have become a numbers game. Companies want to check the boxes but not change their culture. So young people are desperately tailoring themselves to fit in to those boxes.
  • For example, when it comes to corporate leadership roles, the mental associations between whiteness and leadership have contributed to the scarcity of minorities at the helm of powerhouse corporate entities.

Keeping Bias in check:

  • Bias is not something we exhibit and act on all the time. It is conditional, and the battle begins by understanding the conditions under which it is most likely to come alive.
  • Among those conditions, speed and ambiguity are two of the strongest triggers of bias. When we are forced to make quick decisions using subjective criteria, the potential for bias is great.
  • Bias is also more likely to flare up when our decisions are left unmonitored, when there are no checks and balances on the spur-of-the-moment choices we make.
  • Success requires us to be willing to tolerate that discomfort as we learn to communicate, get to know one another, and make deeper efforts to shift the underlying cultures that lead to bias and exclusion.

Webinar: Leading in Uncertainty – Cognitive Edge – Learning Notes


My notes from previous webinar in Covid-19 series

60 Second Summary: Unlocking Leadership Mindtraps – How to Thrive in Complexity – Jennifer Garvey Berger

What is the role of leadership in crisis?

Leaders are condition creators

  • Shape context (environment)
  • Nurture parts of the context that allow people to flourish.
  • Create conditions for all leaders within the system to co-create change
  • Work with the interface of authority
  • Allow collective-leadership to emerge within constraints
  • Help prepare others for adaptive environments
  • Help others embrace and understand complexity:
    • What is complexity?
    • Emphasise complexity is continuous. It’s not going away
    • Help increase comfort with complexity. Reduce threat.
    • Help people recognise complex situations vs ordered situations

Leadership behaviours that don’t work well in complexity

  • Humans try to response to uncertainty with order – Build new habits to break these behaviours
    • More helpful response:
      • Let’s see whats going on now in the present moment.
      • I don’t know, I need to pay more attention
  • Leaders can fall into a reactive trap
  • Mistake – Leaders rely on the past – we did this ten years ago
  • Leaders try and overly control and shape the system
  • Leaders default to an order response and deny the complexity
  • Fail to seek novel solutions. Rely on what has worked in the past

Adaptive Response

  • How to enable an adaptive response?
    1. Create an Adaptive space – conflicting and connecting
    2. Engage with emergence with a sense of direction towards an outcome
    3. Opposing forces in tension – push for novelty vs push for stability
    4. Engage the tension – embrace conflicting – amplify diversity
      • Ordered response we try to remove conflict
    5. Need to start connecting the conflict towards some outcome
    6. Amplify connections towards some agreement
    7. Turn this into new normal(reality) of the system


How to master the art of creating the 'Adaptive Spaces' that ...

Enabling adaptive space | More Beyond

Seema Srivastava on Twitter: "Love your use of Prof Mary Uhl ...


Inner-Capability of Leaders to lead others in Complexity

  • Not knowing is seen as a threat
  • We physically and emotionally experience complexity
  • Shame is important to learning – Potential of shame increases shame and drives learning
  • The experience of many today is: Not knowing plus fear of death
  • Leaders need to work on themselves to be comfortable to embrace this uncertainty.
  • Allow all voices to be heard: fear, shame, guilt. Embrace diversity. Create collective-intelligence
  • Learn to embrace the tension between formal (hierarchy) and informal(community) systems
  • People have a reactive response to complexity, driven by threat
  • Questions for leaders:
    • How do I prepare myself internally to handle the adaptive nature of the system/environment
    • How do I deal with all of the things coming at me?
  • Some leaders are natural complexity thinkers – not everyone will be able to think in this way but they can be trained in behaviours and skills
  • Leaders need to work at three levels – Myself, my environment, others

Individual v Collective Leadership

  • Leaders job is to create leadership through the system
  • Leader should drop the hero complex
  • Leadership is not a scarce resource
  • Leadership is meaningless without the the followship (and vice-versa)

What is the question that emerges in this complexity?

  • What is the task of leadership? How might it be forming and reforming?
  • How do we help all of us handle the complexity of our collective challenges?
  • How do we build more resilience into our complex systems?


  • Generative Emergence – Benyamin Lichtenstein
    • Leadership in emergence
    • Leadership of emergence – How to run organisation
  • Paradox is at the heart of the system
  • Real change is happening at the micro-local level
  • Answers are transient and questions remain

Cynefin Foundations – Learning Journal – Module 1

A learning journal containing my ah-ha moments, puzzles and learning notes as I complete the Cynefin Foundations Online course

Module 1 Topics:

  1. Welcome & Overview
  2. Positioning the approach of anthro-complexity
  3. Complexity Theory and managing in complexity
  4. Exercises and Practice

3 Ah-ha Moments:

  • Five Things – You can only manage five things in a complex system (see notes below). In particular I was intrigued by constraints and how different constraints respond to failure.
  • Problem of Intermediation – There is a tendency by senior managers to treat complex problems as ordered. My learning is that this is driven by Intermediation. Senior Management are often far removed from the realities of teams. Complexity is hidden and they only see the world through order in power points, steering committees etc. More disintermediation is needed so that Senior Managers can be exposed to complexity to help shift away from everything appearing like an ordered problem. Managers need experience complexity in order to embrace it.
  • Goal Setting – You cannot drive a complex system to a specific goal but you can experiment  towards a sense of direction. I had learned through systems thinking that systems have implicit goals. In particular that you can define a system optimisation goal. Now i’m starting to question that thinking. A complex system has a disposition or sense of direction but it cannot have a specific, fixed goal.

2 Unanswered Questions:

  • If complex systems are dispositional, how do you identify the systems disposition?
  • What examples of constraints exist within organisational systems?

1 Next Step:

  • Perform Constraint Mapping within my Organisational System to understand better the different types of constraints that exist (See notes below)

Learning Notes:

Pitfalls with Systems Thinking

  • It is different from Anthro-Complexity (Cynefin)
  • It is driven by an engineering mindset
  • It has value to limits
  • It can create a belief that systems can be controlled if we just understand it enough.
  • It can drive measurements which has negative effects.
  • It can lead to retrospective coherence
  • It can confuse correlation and causation

You can only manage five things in a complex system

  1. Constraints – containers, connections, context free, context specific (
  2. Identity – Different identities in various contexts (husband vs employee) – Identity is an orientation. Identity highlights important of linkages
  3. Affordances – designing the environment and allowing others to make that design a reality. We talk about self-organising teams but we need to enable the ability to adopt it. If people don’t believe it will work they won’t do it, or just token adopt it. Diversity fits into affordances. Diversity is essential in complex systems. Tiger teams – three people with diverse backgrounds to tackle a complex problem
  4. Assemblages – a type of strange attractors – there is a pattern but not pathway used twice. Example: people get swept away in a story
  5. Attractors – you cant create them but you can catalyse them. Bounce the ball at a children’s party. The attractor might fail. If it works you want to amplify. If it fails you want to dampen

Constraint Types:

  • Resilient – survives changed (salt marsh)
    • Permeable – salt marsh
    • Mutating – Case law system – law can change over time
    • Dark(Emergent) – You can see impact but you can’t find cause – taboo
  • Robust – survives unchanged (sea wall) – catastrophic failure
    • Fixed – sea wall
    • Elastic – exercise band
    • Tethers – climbing rope
  1. Identify those which we can change
  2. Identify those which can be changed by other actors
  3. Complete a risk assessment on our and/or other actor changes
  4. Identify constraint changes that will minimise risk
  5. Commence parallel safe-to-fail experiments based on the above
Unique aspects of Human Systems:
  • We make decisions based on patterns
  • We create and maintain multiple identities
  • We ascribe intentionality and cause where none necessarily exist
  • We have learnt how to structure their social interactions to create order

Characteristics of Complex Systems (Professor Cilliers)

  1. Consist of a large number of elements that in themselves can be simple.
  2. The interactions are nonlinear.
  3. many direct and indirect feedback loops.
  4. Complex systems are open systems — they exchange energy or information with their environment — and operate at conditions far from equilibrium.
  5. Complex systems have memory, not located at a specific place, but distributed throughout the system. Any complex system thus has a history, and the history is of cardinal importance to the behavior of the system.
  6. Since the interactions are rich, dynamic, fed back, and, above all, nonlinear, the behavior of the system as a whole cannot be predicted from an inspection of its components.
  7. Complex systems are adaptive. They can (re)organize their internal structure without the intervention of an external agent.

Heuristics for complexity

3 Questions to ask (to focus)

  1. What can i change? Only 5 things (e.g. Constraints)
  2. How can i monitor the impact of change? Foolish to change without ability to monitor
  3. Where can i amplify or dampen result of change?

3 ways to manage

  • Work in the small (Reduce granularity) – Focus on smaller experiments and see how they interact
  • Involve Diverse thinking (Distribute cognition) – example: sense-making – Involve many diverse perspectives for insights
  • Access Raw Data – Reduce layers between raw data and decision makers – Remove managers. Don’t summarise. Summarisation looses raw understanding.

3 things to avoid

  • Retrospective Coherence – Hindsight doesn’t lead to foresight. Don’t use statements about the past to predict the future
  • Risk with Systems Thinking – Looking back at what the system is doing today won’t predict what will happen in future
  • Premature Convergence – People jump to solutions too quickly
  • Pattern blindness – Gorilla experiment

Much research in management science makes a basic error in logic in assuming that because successful companies have certain types of organizational structure, strategic process or whatever, that the assumption of those organization structures or strategic processes by another company will lead to that company being successful. This is the confusion between properties and qualities taught in 101 philosophy: just because I see a Frenchman wearing glasses it does not follow that all Frenchmen wear glasses and even less so that if I put on glasses I will become French!

A Scrum Book – The Spirit of the Game by Jeff Sutherland, James O. Coplien, and The Scrum Patterns Group

3 Big Ideas

  • Scrum Guide defines the rules of Scrum but gives no indication of “how” to implement. Patterns provide a guide “how” to implement scrum and possible sequences of implementation. Patterns can be adopted piecemeal and the language guides which patterns should be considered first.
  • There are two “pattern languages” to consider when implementing scrum

Planning an adoption with Scrum Patterns | Agilix


  • When adopting scrum, focus on the “high order” system before a lower level pattern. For example, focus on establishing a stable team before you focus on other things
    • “Think globally, act locally.”


Patterns are a roadmap to introduce Scrum into organizations, one pattern at a time.

There are almost countless ways to sequence patterns, each sequence giving rise to a Scrum organization with a slightly different character.

1 Takeaway

  • Use this pattern language to describe and visualise possible adoption pathways for organisations

If you have more time… Image result for clock icon


  • While The Scrum Guide describes the basic rules of Scrum, the patterns amplify the guide by showing teams how to solve problems in a specific context.
  • What is a pattern? One simple definition is that a pattern is a repeatably applicable solution to a problem that arises in a specific context.
  • Working in small steps reduces risk and helps teams move forward with confidence in “process improvement.”
  • A carefully chosen sequence of such patterns can resolve product development issues and, importantly, help the organization understand Scrum more in depth.
  • Patterns explore the forces at play in the complex contexts of organizational development and workflow.
  • Patterns help with sequencing:
    • Build a Cross Functional Team BEFORE an Autonomous Team
  • Sometimes you will need to apply several patterns—maybe over several months—to solve a complex problem in the organization.
  • Patterns are a roadmap to introduce Scrum into organizations, one pattern at a time.

The Scrum Core as Patterns

  • Think of Scrum as a game we play. As with most games, it can be a wonderful form of engagement if its players appreciate both the discipline and freedom that help them create value.
  • Spirit of the game = Scrum requires a spirit of interaction between people, and that spirit can be difficult to define. This spirit is part of the culture of the organization and may be indiscernible for the people within the culture. Though it may be difficult to define, the spirit is easy to recognize when it is broken.
  • People often equate “doing Scrum” with the use of a Scrum Board. There is much more to Scrum than any set of tools can capture.
    • Kicking a soccer ball around in the park can look a lot like playing soccer, but it is not soccer.

  • Core Scrum in Pattern

Systems Maps - General (10)

  • Description:
    • 3 “systems” which should be focused on in order
      • Assemble the team
      • Define the Product
      • Agree norms (ways of working)
      • Establish the Sprint
  • Jeff Sutherland suggested scrum adoption sequence (10 steps)
    1. Start with ​¶15 Stable Teams​.
    2. Decide how you are going to size your releases every ​¶46 Sprint​.
    3. Establish a velocity (see Notes on Velocity) and bring it into statistical control: use ​¶66 Yesterday’s Weather​.
    4. Focus on Done (see ​¶82 Definition of Done​) instead of foundering in rework. It takes teamwork to do that.
    5. Use ​¶25 Swarming: One-Piece Continuous Flow​.
    6. Know how to deal with interruptions during the Sprint.
    7. Align the organization to deal with emergencies using the disciplined replanning of ​¶32 Emergency Procedure​.
    8.  Get into a rhythm of improving your process every Sprint with ​¶92 Scrumming the Scrum​. Par
    9. Drive forward with the ​¶91 Happiness Metric​.
    10. Revisit how you are sizing your Sprints. Give yourself room to improve.

Product Organization Pattern Language

  • The Product Organization is one major Whole to which you must attend when introducing Scrum
  • Organizational values are the bedrock of the processes, structure, and atmosphere of the workplace
  • Good values are intrinsic and come from within.

Development Team

  • To build a product of the ​¶93 Greatest Value​ requires that producers work in a way that allows the team to recognize such value when they achieve it, and to support decisions that carry the team in that direction.
  • Scrum is optimised for:
    • Effective communication and feedback are at the heart of effective complex system development
    • The organization structure should be optimized for the most crucial paths of communication (Conways Law)
    • Heart of Agile:
      • Communication
      • Regular feedback
      • Self-organization
  • Focus on Value – our focus and concern are on the end user, market, and customers rather than on the tools and technologies we use to do our work.
  • Small Teams – Organize the workforce into Small Teams of more or less five people, partitioned according to the most important concerns for the creation of value by the enterprise. Supplement this structure with a small number of cross-cutting structures for secondary but important concerns
  • Scrum discourages local optimisation:
    • A Development Team structure where each team owns one part of the product, or just a product subassembly.

Involve the Managers

  • Dilemma – the extent of management control, or whether there should be management at all.
  • Managers help in these cases:
    • Managers have the station and power to restructure the organization while Product Owners do not.
    • Contractual responsibility for a relationship with an external vendor that supplies multiple product developments
    • Strategic issues related to the lifetime or very existence of a team or product.
    • Product Owners are unlikely to have an adequately objective view to defund their own product when business sense dictates that they should.
    • Sometimes a product or even an enterprise must go through discontinuous changes to survive.
    • Deal with impediments that may be too weighty for the ​¶19 ScrumMaster​ or Product Owner
    • Intervene to resolve conflicts between Product Owners of different products.
    • Escalation step for impediments
    • Help access to corporate resources,
    •  ¶114 Firewall – run interference against stakeholders who would interfere with the team.
    • Personnel development and administration.
    • Raise the risk appetite for action where scope is broader than a single product.
      • For example, remove product direction decisions from a sales and marketing to the Product Owner.
  • Product Owner, and not a manager, heads each product, with a very thin and narrow veneer of management at the next level up.
  • Managers must respect:
    • the Product Owner’s authority over product content and release
    • the Development Team’s self-direction as to the how, the who, and sometimes the when of feature development.
    • the scrum master raises the issue when these boundaries are not respected
  • The strongest foundation of management power is the reluctance to use it, and using it sparingly.
  • Celebrate Failure
    • “acknowledge failures with positive comments. Congratulate everyone on their efforts and remind them of the strengths and wisdom they gained from the experience. Put in perspective, a failure can do as much to motivate a team as a win”

Product Owner Team

  • Create a Product Owner Team, led by the Chief Product Owner, whose members together carry out product ownership.
  • Chief Product Owner (CPO) has final authority over the ordering of the Product Backlog.
  • The CPO plus the other people that support the CPO is what we call the Product Owner Team.
    • Do not label Product Owner Team members as ’Product Owners’— they do not own anything.
  • The CPO clearly communicates the strategy and the Product Backlog Items. The CPO works with the Product Owner Team members to select and order backlog items for the teams.
  • The Product Owner Team members can help the CPO work with the Development Teams to break the backlog into small Product Backlog Items for execution.

Manage Development Team Distractions

  • Create an Oyatsu Jinja (Snack Shrine) near the team area, with some candies, snacks, and drinks (coffee or tea).
  • Avoid Tragedy of the Commons:
    • multiple individuals, acting independently and rationally consulting their own self-interest, will ultimately deplete a shared limited resource (the dev team) even when it is clear that it is not in anyone’s long-term interest for this to happen.

  • Legacy management can cause confusion about the locus of control over product content and direction.
    • The locus of control should be the scrum team

Value Stream Pattern Language

Value Stream

  • Value Stream:
    • The development process and the path from conception to market are as important to product success as the product idea itself.
    • The process to deliver ongoing and evolving streams of product increments to stakeholders
    • The organizational structures and processes that provide cradle-to-cradle support for the product.
  • Any given product can support multiple Value Streams, so a given Scrum Team may manage several Value Streams. Any given Scrum Team usually creates value for several stakeholders, and this implies that there are often several Value Streams at play.
  • Rhythm and time-boxing are two sides of the same coin. Sprints might start every two weeks; that means that a Sprint’s duration is no longer than two weeks.
  • Scrum does not presume that one size fits all, and it is up to each team to find its place within the recommended range (or sometimes, outside that range) that works best.
  • Good kaizen (see Kaizen and Kaikaku) often has roots in sustaining a good rhythm.
  • The Product Owner orders PBIs in a way that generates the largest long-term ROI.
  • Roadmap, it too can guide the Product Backlog contents. A good initial Product Backlog is a list of ​¶71 Sprint Goal​s that takes the product in the direction of the Vision, where each Sprint Goal becomes the core of the corresponding Regular Product Increment.
  • Historically, Jeff Sutherland split Toyota’s Chief Engineer into the Product Owner and ​¶19 ScrumMaster​ roles, reflecting business and development concerns respectively.

Product Backlog Increments

  • A PBI can describe anything that has potential value to a stakeholder.
  • No PBI within the top two or three Sprints should take more than 10 percent of the total PBI effort for that Sprint, and keeping them below 5 percent of the total effort is even better.
  • In most cases, the number of ​¶60 Estimation Points​ completed in the last Sprint is a reliable predictor of how many Estimation Points of work the team will complete in the next Sprint.
  • Break down Product Backlog Items into work items and assemble them into a plan called a ​¶72 Sprint Backlog​. Each work item is a Sprint Backlog Item (SBI). No Sprint Backlog Item typically should be any larger than a single Development Team member can complete in a single work day.

Product Definition

  • It is crucial to optimize the design for economies of scope.
  • Use Value Areas  – Example at energy company:
    • I-Join, I-Pay, and We-Support.
    • Value Areas address an area of customer value and requires specific detailed knowledge.
    • Each Value Area consists of four to six Development Teams
  • Broad vs Narrow
    • Too broad, the product lacks focus and direction, and users may have difficulty identifying with it.
    • Narrow –  Great products grow from small products that work.
  • Uniformly marketing all of a large product’s features to a single market is likely to confuse the consumer.
    • What you sell/market to the customer might be different to how you internally organise.
  • There may be legal forces for splitting a “application” into multiple “applications”, Microsoft to unbundle Internet Explorer from Windows®. We become limited in our ability to tailor existing products to add market differentiation.

Pattern Tips

  • Patterns characteristics:
    • Must be built upon multiple known examples
      • rule of thumb – must be three independently discovered prior examples
    • Has a moral grounding, it is is morally profound
    • Solves a problem.
    • Describes the how
    • Describes why it is essential
    • Takes into account context
  • Pattern Ratings:
    • ** = you will need this solution to resolve the forces to move forward in Scrum.
    • * =  the pattern is the core of a good solution; however, we cannot argue that it is the only way.
    • 0 =  works as a solution and that it is the best solution much of the time—though other good solutions exist as well.
  • Each node of the graph is a pattern, and the lines between patterns depict ordering dependencies between them. The graph therefore shows, for each pattern, the patterns above it, which you should already have considered before applying any given pattern—and the ones below it, which are candidates for next steps once you have put the current one in place.
  • There are almost countless ways to sequence patterns, each sequence giving rise to a Scrum organization with a slightly different character.
  • A pattern language is the set of rules for combining the patterns in meaningful orders; as a “language” it has a grammar that can generate all sequences that are meaningful “sentences.”
  • It is useful to think of the patterns as building the spaces, or the identities, for groups of people who gather occasionally or periodically to exchange ideas, build things, solve problems, and to grow together.

Other stuff

  • In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. Anyone in the organization can assert their authority by claiming they can see what others don’t.
  • Toyota Quote:
    • “build people, not just cars”
    • The soil is tended and prepared, the seeds are watered, and when the seeds grow, the soil is maintained, weeded, and watered again until finally the fruit is ready
  • Make all non-trivial issues visible with an Impediment List; raise them up to the right people in the organization for resolution.
  • we define value as something of worth to some person or set of people whom we wish to serve.

Leadership Yoga: A toolkit to build flexibility into how you lead

The best leaders don’t know just one style of leadership—they’re skilled at several, and have the flexibility to switch between styles as the circumstances dictate.

Daniel Goleman – Author: Emotional Intelligence

Leaders today need flexibility more than ever to be able to lead in different contexts. Many defer to personal preferences even if the context requires a shift in approach. Some hold onto command and control style. Others stick to a non-directive approach. Both can be helpful in context.

The challenge: how to be flexible based on context, whilst being authentic. True to your values and beliefs.

Over the past 18 months Yoga has taught me many lessons. Regular practice has helped unlearn behaviours impacting flexibility, body and mind. The importance of release rather than to push. Not striving for the perfect pose. To avoid comparisons to others.

These lessons from Yoga have relevance for leadership. How often our leadership is rigid, lacking flexibility. How we strive for the perfect leadership style, without realising there isn’t one. How we copy from others the approaches that seem right.

To help you build greater flexibility, below are a set of Leadership Yoga Exercises.

Each exercise is short and performed over time will build greater flexibility and new leadership habits.

Play with the Scale of Influence

Snip20160813_2Scale of Influence: Brilliant Coaching, Julie Starr

The Scale of Influence demonstrates a spectrum of leadership behaviours. From Directive to Non-directive.

It is typical for leaders to think a non-directive approach is “correct”. “Command and control” styles often seen as “incorrect” Both can be over used. Flexibility is key. Be aware of the context and be comfortable at either end of the scale.

Yoga Mat Icons


Ask your team to highlight which option you adopt most and if they would prefer a shift in style?

Explore how Radical Candor feels

Radical Candor is an excellent book which explores the different leadership styles adopted, in particular around feedback. Kim Scott highlights that a balance between caring personally and direct challenge often brings out the best in others.

Feedback & Radical Candor | Our Simple Approach To Guidance

Radical Candor: Kim Scott

Yoga Mat IconsExercise:

Next time you need to have a difficult conversation, write down the key points you want to make. Practice saying them in the mirror. Reflect after the conversation on the key points you were able to make.

Say No for the Day

In the film, Yes Man, starring Jim Carey, the lead character decides to say Yes to everything in his life.

Many leaders find it easy to say Yes, it’s more difficult to say No. Especially with difficult stakeholders and customers. Promises are made as the leader might find it difficult to say no. A leader who cannot say No can have big impacts on the teams they work with, often leading to overburdening.

Become more comfortable with saying No.

Yoga Mat IconsExercise:

Spend the day saying No to every request. Stretch this rule as far as you can. Observe how it feels and the consequences of your decisions.

Spend a day with a team

As you become more senior you increasingly work in “leadership” roles and become more removed from the day-to-day work of the teams. This can make your leadership approach lack a dose of reality.

Microsoft Teams - Characters by MACIEK JANICKI on Dribbble

Senior Managers can build flexibility to lead without relying corporate titles. Joining a team can provide a good reality check. How it feels to be in a “team” environment. Being flexible in how to collaborate in a more authentic, personal way.

Yoga Mat Icons


Clear your diary and spend a day with your team (or customers). Drop your title and see how it feels to work in a team. Also observe how others respond around you.


Are there exercises that help build flexibility into your leadership?

Please let me know and I will share them here!

More exercises coming soon.