The Cynefin Review Part 6 – The Obvious Domain

Moving to the Obvious Domain from Complicated, we first encounter the ‘Are You Sure’ square.

Are you Sure?

Given the danger of moving to implement the constraints that allow the full exploitation of organisational autonomous thinking, we must check that the trade-offs we have made are the right ones.

Do we have true Best Practices, and can we switch off many of the questioning functions for this Obvious solution?

Stable Best Practice

If a ‘Stable Best Practice’ can be found, then it can be implemented in the centre of the model. This is the last place on the red line and if we arrive here we hope to stay here for some time.

It is in the Self-evident and Pragmatic space.


At the top of the model, we have the ‘Cynics’. In the Questioning space we have those individuals who will challenge the status quo. However, this square is also in the Zombie Like Behaviour, and the majority of people involved at this stage of the problem / solution life cycle will have already switched to autonomous thinking.

If the Cynics are not heard and the problem / solution dynamic was not as stable as widely thought, we may end up moving closer to Catastrophic Failure, although there are a few squares between that and the Cynics.

Listen Early and Test by Walking the Walk

To counter the Cynics, it is necessary to ‘Go See’ and re-evaluate the constraints and rules put in place to achieve exploitation at low cost. Are they still valid?

The only way to tell, is to visit the problem / solution area and see for yourself.

Gaming Behaviour

When the constraints and rules are too rigid for the problem, the individuals and teams have to work around them to get their work done. If this is wide spread, then the system is ‘Gamed’ and this is likely to be invisible to this enforcing the rules.

The higher the proportion of people working outside the rules, the more hidden and opaque the system really is. This can lead to complacency about stability.

Complacency Induced Failure

When the system becomes Opaque, and too many people are working around the rules to get their job done, real problems can go unnoticed and this can lead to Catastrophic Failure pushing the system over the cliff to the Chaotic domain.

This square is in the Zombie Like (autonomous thinking) space and the Indifference space.

Sycophant Zone

At the bottom of the model, lies the ‘Sycophants’. These are individuals have given up questioning and agree with any requests with Indifference.

When this happens the system is in a very bad place and programs on motivation and rotation of role need to take place. Warning signs are not sounded, and sycophants have become less than useful to the organisation.

Pull Back or Engage at an Earlier Stage

In this square, we have individuals who don’t agree but will go along with solutions proposed. This is not the same as the Sycophant zone, because people will still challenge and speak up with some sense of hope that they will be listened to.

Individuals feel they are being Pragmatic and not Indifferent, and there are still Trade Offs to be found in the solution before we can find Stability.

Create Challenge, and if Not Met, Fine

This square is in the Indifference space and represents the behaviour of no commitment to the stabilisation of a problem. With no commitment comes no responsibility, and without responsibility we may well move towards Chaos.


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  1. Pingback: The Cynefin Review Pt 1 - Adventures with Agile

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