In a recent discussion, a colleague shared an idea he was assimilating with a project. From the way, he shared his story it quickly became clear that he had not yet been digging far into it. His description remained somewhat abstract and vague.
To me, he wasn’t ready yet. Other colleagues were suggesting, that he should decide on going ahead with his idea or not.
All of us were right. The difference in assessment was based on the time frame I had in mind and the tasks needed to reach a decision. The description difference was there as an effort to avoid precipitation in decision making. The project description we had heard was lacking two things. There was no clear objective or idea of what was needed and how the project could be implement wasn’t clear either.
It’s a frequent situation when an idea has appeared and first conversations started to shape it.
Locating his project on the Stacey matrix, it was somewhere between chaos and the zone of complexity.
Which is also a description of how learning starts. In the beginning, there are so many things to be perceived, that there is no clarity as to where to start or what to choose as a starting point. The idea feels chaotic. At least, when one starts to try to describe the brilliant idea that appeared while showering. It is only gradually through some kind of structuring that patterns will start to emerge, thus allowing more learning to happen and become accessible. And yet, it still is difficult to grasp the idea. That’s because it is still too complex for us to grasp.
That is why having many conversations about one’s project is so helpful. It allows us to receive structuring questions and to develop patterns in our thinking about the project. It still will take quite some time to see things through and move out of the complex zone.
The challenge is, that it is a zone where most people assume that they can think it through. To most the assumption is, that it is complicated. However, as described in the Stacey matrix, complicated requires that the idea has shifted on either the “what” axis or the “how” axis by having made more clarity available. It is the idea that enough expertise will solve the situation.
That might be true. But then the task is to approach the discovery process in yet another way.
That’s where the Cynefin framework is so helpful. It helps to perceive how different contexts require different ways of sense-making. One’s understanding of an idea is nothing else than one of the different contexts. To be able to lean into an idea we basically need to know where in our mind it is located. Is it in a zone of complexity, chaos, or possibly in a zone of expertise where things are complicated or simple.
The Stacey matrix is a way to discover or describe the context. The Cynefin framework suggests how to address that context. And the human dimension is there to help us accept that there is work to do, to learn to know our ideas and locate them in the context it is in.