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A Leader’s Framework for Decision Making

The Cynefin framework sorts the issues facing leaders into five contexts defined by the nature of the relationship between cause and effect. Four of these—simple, complicated, complex, and chaotic—require leaders to diagnose situations and to act in contextually appropriate ways. The fifth—disorder—applies when it is unclear which of the other four contexts is predominant.

Using the Cynefin framework can help executives sense which context they are in so that they can not only make better decisions but also avoid the problems that arise when their preferred management style causes them to make mistakes. In this article, we focus on the first four contexts, offering examples and suggestions about how to lead and make appropriate decisions in each of them. Since the complex domain is much more prevalent in the business world than most leaders realize—and requires different, often counterintuitive, responses—we concentrate particularly on that context. Leaders who understand that the world is often irrational and unpredictable will find the Cynefin framework particularly useful.

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