Open Both Eyes

Perception Blindness

We see the world not as it is, but as we are.

Perception allows us to see a problem and formulate a way to fix the problem. Once we know how to process (i.e., what the formula is), it becomes easy to figure out more difficult problems. As we excel at using the formula, it embeds in our brain as a best practice habit.
In Thinking, Fast and Slow , Daniel Kahneman urges us to think of the mind as run by two systems.

Hammering a Screw

System 1 is fast, intuitive, automatic, endlessly striving to build a coherent picture of reality, usually without our noticing. System 1 is miraculous — without it, you couldn’t walk and chew gum at the same time — but it plays fast and loose with the facts, and is the source of the heuristics, or rules of thumb, that lead us astray.
Because we are so good at using a hammer, we only open one eye and see every problem as a nail, even it’s a screw.

Introducing the Unordered Side

The Cynefin Framework opens both eyes by adding the perceptions of Complex and Chaotic systems.

Click to enlarge

Intractable Problems reside in the Complex Domain

Kahneman’s System 1 resides in the Simple Domain. His System 2 requires Thinking Slow. It might be in the Complicated Domain (bring in the experts to analyze) or the Complex Domain (patiently probe the system to discover new patterns and relationships). 

Intractable problems keep you awake at night because you have no solution to a problem that’s eating at you. Facing inconsistent, confusing, often emotional behaviours keep you from having a good restful sleep. You thought bringing in experts to analyze with surveys and interview techniques would do the trick. But the report only reinforced what you knew already.

And now you’re in a worse position because you’ve raised employee expectations that something will be done. If you do nothing, your own personal credibility will take a big hit with the troops. The intractable problem is –  you don’t know what that something is.    If you implement the expert’s recommendation to add more rules, policies, compliance training, your gut says that would be accepted like a lead balloon. To the people above you watching your next move, the inability to resolve the dilemma may be construed as putting one foot out the door.

Cynefin domain solution methodologies

Probe, Sense, Respond

Fortunately, there is a process, a methodology offered by Complexity science.  Intractable problem behaviours on the surface appear confusing and erratic. Complexity science provides evidence that patterns do exist; it’s just that they are hidden. By conducting experiments we probe to discover these patterns. These experiments are “safe-to-fail”; that is, we want them to fail to learn from them. They are also designed so that people nor assets will be hurt or damaged are, therefore, deemed safe. In the Complicated domain we focus on “fail-safe” where we identify all known risks and generate mitigating actions. In the Complex domain, it’s “safe-to-fail”.

Related References

Snowden DJ, Boone ME. 2007. A leader’s framework for decision making. Harvard Business Review
Blog: Do you lead from the Past or lead to the Future?
Blog: Cynefin Simple Domain renamed to Obvious Domain
Blog: The 2012 Twitter Olympics
Blog: U.S. Public School System repeating the same mistakes
Blog: Flipping the Classroom is a Safe-to-Fail Experiment 

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