Cynefin, a Welsh word meaning ‘habitat’ or ‘place’, is a decision-making framework used in management. It helps managers to visualise and understand the different types of systems they might be dealing with. The framework categorises problems into five domains: simple, complicated, complex, chaotic, and disorder.

Simple problems have known solutions and are best solved by identifying the problem and applying the best practice. Complicated problems, on the other hand, have solutions that can be discovered through analysis or expert advice. These problems are solved by applying good practice.

Complex problems have unknown solutions that can only be discovered through experimentation. The approach here is to probe, sense, and then respond. Chaotic problems have no known solutions and require immediate action. The strategy is to act, sense, and then respond.

The fifth domain, disorder, is when it’s unclear which of the other four categories a problem falls into. Here, the manager’s role is to break the problem down into its constituent parts and assign each to one of the other four domains.

Cynefin is a practical tool for managers, helping them to understand the nature of different problems and how best to approach them. It emphasises the importance of context and the need to adapt management strategies to different situations.

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