Better Decision Making

Get Results: Productivity requires better decision making and problem solving
Get Results: Productivity requires better decision making and problem solving

Different situations impact the way we make decisions. To illustrate this point, if you’re trying to lose weight, you generally only have to consider your own motivations. For instance you have to work out how to reduce the desires that get in your way, like wanting to eat fatty foods.

In contrast, if you’re marketing and trying to persuade strangers to buy from you, considerations are very different. You’re not in direct control of what others do, you can only encourage and influence, and so there is an extra level of complexity to how you make your own decisions.

The Cynefin framework provides five decision-making contexts;

  • Simple (has recently changed to obvious),
  • Complicated,
  • Complex,
  • Chaotic,
  • Disorder,

which helps managers identify how they may perceive situations and make sense of their own and other people’s behaviour.

Get Results: cynefin framework
Get Results: cynefin framework

The Cynefin framework is based on research from systems theory, complexity theory, network theory and learning theories according to Wikipedia.

It has been used by its IBM developers in policy-making, product development, market creation, supply chain management, brand and customer relations. As well as by governments and the military along with health care research by the NHS.


If you don’t know where you are, if you feel lost, you are probably in the domain of disorder. Within the domain of disorder, there is no clarity about which of the other domains apply to your current situation.

You may experience multiple perspectives, that could all equally be valid. “Leaders may argue with one another and cacophony likely rules”, says Snowden and Boone.

To find a way out of this domain, you must break down the situation into its constituent parts and assign each to one of the other four realms.

First gather information, then identify the domain and move on.

Don’t fall into the trap of believing everything is simple and ordered, or that past success makes you invulnerable to future failure. This is a big mistake, because before you know it, the chaotic domain will drag you into a crisis.


When the s**t hits the fan and all hell breaks loose, the first response is instinctive, the freeze, flight or fight response kicks in. It’s our  primordial response for self preservation.

In this domain, cause and effect is unclear, and too confusing for knowledge based responses. In fact, previous knowledge and experience is only partially useful in chaotic situations.

Remove yourself from danger, in the first instance, try to regroup and do what you can to move from the chaotic domain into the complex domain, using novel practice if you have to.

Action mode

  1. ACT really…trust your instinct….get out of the immediate danger zone
  2. SENSE once out of the immediate danger zone, assess the situation and determine your next steps.
  3. RESPOND take action to move your problem to another domain


In this domain, the relationship between cause and effect is only possible through retrospective analysis. It’s a case of the truth being out there somewhere. There are no right answers, as such, we can draw only instructive patterns from them. The best way to navigate in this domain is through trial and error, via experimentation.

We often have to engage in emerging practice, where the path will be created with every step taken. It’s a case of testing as you go and seeing what works and what doesn’t, and learning from your failures.

The complex domain represents the “unknown unknowns”.

I was introduced to the concept of complexity when reading “Brave new work by Aaron Dignan”, where he discusses how companies can become more “adaptive and human” by becoming more “complexity conscious.”

Let’s assume you’re a marketer who wants prospects to buy your product. What do you need to do to get them to act? You can only encourage them to buy from you if you match their buying criteria. You must present your offer in a way that compels them to make a purchase. It’s important to realise that it’s not under your complete control, as with your own actions. If they like what they see, they may buy from you, providing the price is right, they trust you and you’ve given them enough reasons to part with their hard earned money.

Action mode

  1. PROBE experiment – evaluate – repeat. Gathering knowledge
  2. SENSE dive into the new and determine next steps
  3. RESPOND take action moving the problem into the complicated domain


In the complicated domain, the relationship between cause and effect may consist of a range of right answers, rather than just one. It requires some expertise to navigate in this domain, like you would find with engineers, surgeons and lawyers. It’s the domain of known unknowns.

You’re looking for an expert to show you the best way.

You can make use of a blueprint to get from A to B.

It’s a case of 1 + 1 =2

Action mode

  1. SENSE the problem
  2. ANALYZE the problem and roadmaps
  3. RESPOND with a plan


In the simple/obvious domain, the relationship between cause and effect is clear cut: if you do X, you can expect Y to happen. It’s the domain of the known knowns.

Snowden and Boone (2007) offer the example of loan-payment processing. An employee identifies the problem, for example, a borrower has paid less than required, the employee categorises it, by reviewing the loan documents, and responds by following the terms of the loan.

It is the domain of the 1 way solution. A simple case of 1 + 1 = 2

Action mode

  1. SENSE the situation. Establish the facts.
  2. CATEGORISE the situation into a known bucket
  3. RESPOND with a well-known solution, following the rules or applying best practice.

Sometimes you can move through these domains, other times a particular decision lives in just one. The main takeaway is to understand that all problems are not equal and that different approaches are required for different situations.

For more about making better decisions check out our other posts about decision making here.