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A Leader's Framework for Decision-Making (Cynefin) (HBR, 2007): a new perspective based on complexity science.
The 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.

"Understanding Complexity" (sidebar): Complexity is more a way of thinking about the world than a new way of working with mathematical models. Over a century ago, Frederick Winslow Taylor, the father of scientific management, revolutionized leadership. Today, advances in complexity science, combined with knowledge from the cognitive sciences, are transforming the field once again. Complexity is poised to help current and future leaders make sense of advanced technology, globalization, intricate markets, cultural change, and much more. In short, the science of complexity can help all of us address the challenges and opportunities we face in a new epoch of human history.

A complex system has the following characteristics:

One of the early theories of complexity is that complex phenomena arise from simple rules. Consider the rules for the flocking behavior of birds: Fly to the center of the flock, match speed, and avoid collision. This simple-rule theory was applied to industrial modeling and production early on, and it promised much; but it did not deliver in isolation. More recently, some thinkers and practitioners have started to argue that human complex systems are very different from those in nature and cannot be modeled in the same ways because of human unpredictability and intellect. Consider the following ways in which humans are distinct from other animals:

Leaders who want to apply the principles of complexity science to their organizations will need to think and act differently than they have in the past. This may not be easy, but it is essential in complex contexts.

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Last modified 06 April 2022