Creativity and Complexity – the link (Part 1)

My previous two posts on “Creative thinking” made liberal references to the CPS (creative problem solving) method of Osborn and Parnes.

It occurred to me awhile ago that the CPS process and Dave Snowden’s Cynefin framework have (for me) an intriguing relationship.  Snowden warns us against the dangers of using just “single ontology sense-making” in all the varied situations we encounter (particularly as leaders).

The following wise admonition by Einstein sounds the same warning (emphasis mine):

“Make things as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

The problem arises when we assume that the nature of reality (“ontology”) is always predictably neat, with single causes coming before their resulting effects.  This is the world of ORDER.  However all around us (stock market crashes, 9-11, stuttering efforts at education reform, etc.) there are a myriad of examples of UN-ORDER (Snowden’s term for realms where cause-and-effect at best can only be made out after-the-fact, if at all).

To apply the methods of ORDER (see Simple/Complicated below) to the realms of UN-ORDER (see Complex/Chaotic below) is wasteful at best, catastrophic at worst.

English: Cynefin framework with all five domai...
English: Cynefin framework with all five domains labeled (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When we are making sense of a situation – “What do I have here?” – one is starting from the middle of the picture above [Disorder].  If after the briefest of spells (“sense”) you know exactly what is at hand (“categorize”) and you can confidently declare, “The policy prescribes we must do X!” then you are in the Simple realm where Best Practice is king.

If after a brief spell of sensing, you’re not quite sure what you have, but an expert can reliably advise you, then you’re in the world of “Complicated”.  Whereas “Simple” is the realm of codified knowledge, one can see that Complicated is the world where tacit knowledge holds sway (which gives experts their “sapiential” authority after-all!).

So far, so good, for “single-ontology sense-making”…

The problem comes in when the methods of ORDER overreach into the realms of UNORDER.  And it happens far too often unfortunately.  Listen to that cabinet minister crowing about the “framework” they now have in place to address X (where X can be poverty, lack of educational opportunities, etc.).  They seem to honestly think that an expertise-derived “framework” is going to slay the X beast!!!

For complex challenges – which X starts out being, unless it is allowed to collapse into chaos through leadership neglect (think French Revolution) – leave the experts at Head Office!  If you are the accountable “person in charge of solving X”, you need to take a much more reserved/tentative/respectful approach when engaging with the X-factor.

Snowden advises you to first “probe” before you even “sense”!  Only after that deliberate period of pause (suspending judgement, I would guess) should you consider your need to “respond”.  Patience is a virtue, is your friend in complex situations.  You are like a midwife helping an Emergent reality into the world.

The above applies unless the situation is truly chaotic.  Then you should “act” forthrightly.  Do something!  Then “sense” and then “respond”.  In truly Novel situations this is the best course of action [sidenote: Ed de Bono in his book Six Action Shoes – yes he wrote that one too! – says it is now time to use the “orange gumboots”].

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