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A Leader's Framework for Decision Making



Many executives are surprised when previously successful leadership approaches fail in new situations, but different contexts call for different kinds of responses. Before addressing a situation, leaders need to recognize which context governs it -and tailor their actions accordingly. Snowden and Boone have formed a new perspective on leadership and decision making that's based on complexity science. The result is the Cynefin framework, which helps executives sort issues into five contexts: Simple contexts are characterized by stability and cause-and-effect relationships that are clear to everyone. Often, the right answer is self-evident. In this realm of "known knowns," leaders must first assess the facts of a situation -that is, "sense" it -then categorize and respond to it. Complicated contexts may contain multiple right answers, and though there is a clear relationship between cause and effect, not everyone can see it. This is the realm of "known unknowns." Here, leaders must sense, analyze, and respond. In a complex context, right answers can't be ferreted out at all; rather, instructive patterns emerge if the leader conducts experiments that can safely fail. This is the realm of "unknown unknowns," where much of contemporary business operates. Leaders in this context need to probe first, then sense, and then respond. In a chaotic context, searching for right answers is pointless. The relationships between cause and effect are impossible to determine because they shift constantly and no manageable patterns exist. This is the realm of unknowables (the events of September 11, 2001, fall into this category). In this domain, a leader must first act to establish order, sense where stability is present, and then work to transform the situation from chaos to complexity. The fifth context, disorder, applies when it is unclear which of the other four contexts is predominant. The way out is to break the situation into its constituent parts and assign each to one of the other four realms. Leaders can then make decisions and intervene in contextually appropriate ways.
A leaders guide to Decision Making!
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... The sense-making process focuses on the plausibility of the answers and judgments, which goes beyond the logical-deductive process, rather than focusing on its accuracy like contingency theory (Weick 1995). While the sense-making theory has numerous advantages in context-driven problem-solving (Snowden and Boone 2007), it has provided no remedy for converging interpretations that arose from actors' discourses. In other words, not reaching consensus in debate sessions (Hanafizadeh et al. 2020), handling workshops (Berg and Pooley 2013;Snowden 2001), biased judgments (Jackson 2019), and limited analytical ability (Checkland and Poulter 2006), are just a few of challenges of discursive theories like sense-making theory. ...
... In the traditional version of OIPT, Galbraith has assumed that the relationship between IP and organizational performance could be mathematically modeled (specifically in a linear way) (Haußmann et al. 2012). By doing so, the "value" and "communication" dimensions of the situation are neglected since it is not possible to mathematically model the complexity of the social and individual aspects of the context (Snowden and Boone 2007). ...
... These are the domains of flowing knowledge (Snowden 2002). The characteristics of each of these domains will be explained in detail in Section 4. The fifth group, which is called the disorder domain, represents the conditions in which leaders cannot recognize what state they are in (Snowden and Boone 2007). ...
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The present study contributes to developing a pragmatic constructivist framework for detecting the nature of real-world's problems. To do so, we developed a framework that appreciates factual and logical aspects of reality and considers the values of actors participating in the situation using their communication. This occurs by integrating contingency theory and sense-making theory, which utilize rational and discursive inference mechanisms , respectively. In order to effectively cope with the complexity of understanding problems' nature, it is suggested to use rational and discursive mechanisms in complement. To do so, in this study, organizational information processing theory (OIPT) from contingency theory was utilized to enrich the Cynefin framework stemming from sense-making theory. Then, we used qualitative conceptual analysis to investigate Cynefin papers in a deductive-inductive way to develop the evolved Cynefin framework. The rationality of OIPT improves the analytical capabilities of Cynefin. Additionally, OIPT's contextual factors facilitate structuring debate sessions to reach a consensus. Cynefin helps us extract contextual narrations, which enables the acquisition of new knowledge. OIPT tries to extract actors' existing explicit and tacit knowledge. Finally, the developed framework is validated by utilizing it in the field of business process management and discussing how it helps problem-solvers make sense of their processes.
... While the description of the phenomena of stable, predictable circumstances and unstable, unpredictable circumstances is common across all of the above, later developments in management scholarship have provided additional depth to the explanation. French et al. (2009) in summarising the history of decision theory, suggest the Cynefin framework (Snowden & Boone, 2007) 3 as encapsulating underlying ideas from chaos theory (Lorenz, 1963) and complexity theory (Nicolis & Prigogine, 1977;Prigogine and Stengers, 1984) 4 in mathematics, and creating a metamodel of approaches to decision making, leading to specific recommended actions by managers. The framework is helpful in illustrating how a system can move from ordered to disordered, and from disordered to ordered, in a dynamic way, and for providing recommendations to managers for each stage. ...
... The curved arms are to distinguish from a graph with measurable x and y axes. The 'sense/respond' brackets indicate Snowden's sense-making and action model (see Snowden & Boone, 2007) Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved. ...
... First there is a problem requiring a decision. This sits within a decision context, which shapes the way in which the issue is addressed (Snowden & Boone, 2007). The decision maker may be an individual in a position to shape an initiative (including whether or how to adopt a participative, deliberative approach), and a decision is assumed, by definition, to be something that will lead to an action (French et al, 2009). ...
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The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are an opportunity to address major social and environmental challenges. As a widely agreed framework they offer a potential way to mobilise stakeholders on a global scale. The manner in which the goals, with time-based targets and specific metrics, are set out within a voluntary reporting process adopted by both governments and business, provides a fascinating and important case for organisational studies. It is both about advancing performance measurement and evidence-based policy-making for sustainable development, and also participation and consultation at a wider, more global scale, than has ever been possible before. This paper contributes to the notion of SDGs as a wicked problem, answering calls for deeper theorisation, via synthesis with core ideas in the management field of decision theory. A case study on the wicked problem of deforestation and its links to supply chains, multi-stakeholder initiatives and SDG reporting, provides an illustration of the relevance of the application of decision theory to wicked problems, presented using a novel conceptual framework. This helps to illustrate new avenues for research and practical application regarding the balance of technocratic and participative approaches for sustainable development.
... or to intervene 'for good' in otherwise seemingly inefficient, ineffective, inequitable, incomplete and incomprehensible organisational and social systems (Beer, 1984;Best & Holmes, 2010;Bowers, 2011;Brocklesby & Cummings, 1996;Checkland, 1981Checkland, , 1985Checkland, , 1999Churchman, 1968;Dias, 2010;Espinosa et al., 2011;Flood, 1998Flood, , 2001Flood, 2010;Flood & Carson, 1988;Flood & Romm, 1996a;Forrester, 1994b;Francescato, 1992;Gregory, 2000;Gunderson & Holling, 2002;Jackson, 1991bJackson, , 2000Jackson, , 2001Jackson, , 2003Jackson, , 2009Jackson & Keys, 1984;Kapsali, 2011;Kartowisastro & Kijima, 1994;Kay & Halpin, 1999;Klein, 2016b;Manuel-Navarrete, 2001;McDaniel, 2007;Midgley, 1992bMidgley, , 1997aMidgley, , 2000Midgley, , 2003aMidgley & Ochoa-Arias, 2004;Midgley & Shen, 2007;Mingers & Brocklesby, 1997;Piers & Brent, 2007;Pratt et al., 1999;Romm, 1996;Rubenstein-Montano et al., 2001;Shen & Midgley, 2007a, 2007bSnowden & Boone, 2007;Ulrich, 1987Ulrich, , 1988Ulrich, , 2017Ulrich & Reynolds, 2010;Williams & Hummelbrunner, 2009;Williams & Imam, 2007). Our urge to 'act-for-good' comes in many guises -described (perhaps even justified) variously as improvements, efficiencies, effectiveness, emancipation, ethical practice, progress, development, sustainability, etc. ...
... My questions -pointedly in the thirdperson -are not seeking rational responses -rather they direct attention to unseen assumptions and the deeper dynamics at play within us all §CA-5. We know we can predict and control much that is simple, and even some realms that fall into the complicated category (Snowden & Boone, 2007). Yet in the realms of complexity, different conditions apply: ...
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Traditional scientific paradigms emphasise writing in the third person, effectively marginalising the subjective perspective of the researcher. Many systems thinking, cybernetics and complexity approaches are better in this regard, as they involve systemic interventions where the relationships between the researcher and other participants really matter. Writing in the first person therefore becomes acceptable. In this Thesis (and a partner document coupled with it), I have explored how to reincorporate subjective empiricism into my systemic intervention practice. This has brought forth many unanticipated contributions. These take the form of new frameworks, concepts and approaches for systems and complexity practice, emerging from my engagements with myself and others, as well as from reflections upon those engagements. However, the content of my reflections and ‘becomings’ are not all that represent my doctoral contribution; there is also the form of my representation(s), as well as the emergent nature of the process through which they have come to be. I have drawn from Gregory Bateson’s use of metalogues: where the nature of a conversation mirrors its content – e.g. getting into a muddle whilst talking about muddles! Intuitively, I grasped the importance of metalogue in what I was attempting, and found myself coining the term metalogic coherence. Without fully appreciating what this might mean in practice, I groped my way into undertaking and documenting my research in ways that I believed would be metalogically coherent with the complexity-attuned principles to which I was committing. In sum, and key to appreciating what unfolds in the narrative, is recognising this Thesis and its partner document as metalogically coherent artefacts of naturally inclusional, complexity-attuned, evolutionary research. To fully acknowledge the different ways of knowing that have flowed into my inquiry, I have written in multiple voices (called statewaves, for reasons to be explained in the thesis). I found myself shifting from one voice to another as I explored and expressed different dimensions of what I was experiencing and discovering. In addition, I have made liberal use of hyperlinks, so both documents are far from linear. They are more akin to a mycorrhizal network, interlinking flows of ideas and sensemaking, all of which can be accessed and experienced differently, depending on each reader’s engagement with and through it. The thesis and its partner document are part of a composite submission that contains both poetry and artwork (visual depictions and animations of the ideas). These elements, along with the more conventional academic text, are augmented by penetrating reflections on my personal motivations, guided by a narrator signposting the streams as they flow into and between each other. All of my being has been implicated and impacted by this endeavour. When insights and new ‘becomings’ emerged flowfully during my practice, my joy was reflected in my narrative; as indeed were my pain, doubts and reinterpretations associated with ideas that were difficult to birth. I present all this in my submission, without retrospective sanitisation or simplification. In so doing, I am keeping faith with the principle that I remain at the heart of my research, and cannot be extracted from it without doing violence to the metalogical coherence that gives it meaning.
... One key feature still not widely appreciated in the debate about what triggers success or failure is the degree of project complexity that poses challenges to the management of projects. Much has been written about the impact of complexity on how projects should be best managed and current thinking suggests that the challenges of dealing with project chaotic or complex situations (for more detail about complexity readers should refer to Kurtz and Snowden, 2003;Snowden and Boone, 2007) that no single or isolated groups of project delivery team parties can effectively envisage and understand the scope, scale and complexity they face by themselves. Current research supports the view that in these project situations collaboration presents a greater chance of success and avoiding failure than traditional forms of project delivery (Davis and Love, 2011;Walker and Lloyd-Walker, 2014;. ...
... In this situation, all parties know that there are risks out there that they do not know enough about to identify, plan for, and deal with. Sourcing expert advice, through an IPD form, is necessary for complex or chaotic situations when cause and effect loops are disjointed but where patterns may be discerned (Kurtz and Snowden, 2003;Snowden and Boone, 2007). management teams so that a wider view of problems and opportunities may be appreciated and explored. ...
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This is the introductory chapter to The Routledge Handbook of Integrated Project Delivery,it explains the book's structure and other 27 Chapters. It Identified motivations to collaborate in an IPD form of contractual arrangement and explains what Alliancing is
... Control entails making changes to a predetermined plan when something unexpected or unforeseen happens, and new opportunities arise. Unpredictability is innate to complex systems (such as construction production) as the behavior of such systems can never be precisely anticipated beforehand (Snowden & Boone 2007). Arbulu et al. (2016) argue that to be effective, production control systems should constantly sense, analyze, and respond to any issues that surface. ...
Conference Paper
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Construction projects need adequate planning to set a structure and direction for production, but simultaneously call for effective control to maintain the direction when something unexpected happens. Effective control is of utmost importance for takt production, which is especially vulnerable when disruptions occur. While previous takt production research has primarily focused on how to form a good takt plan, little attention has been given to how to control and continuously improve takt production systems effectively. Addressing the gap, this study inspects takt control through the lenses of failure modes and effects analysis (FMEA). First, we argue that takt control can be perceived through three different failure categories: failures within wagons, failures in handoffs, and failures in takt trains. We discuss the peculiarities of takt control through these categories and provide examples of failures with their respective failure mode(s) and possible control action(s). Second, we construct an FMEA-based framework for effective takt control that shows how to recover from failures and avoid them altogether. Future research may consider validating the failure categories and the framework through case studies or simulations, and examining their applicability in supporting digital takt production.
... Finally, adaptive leaders need to make sure enough resources are spent on addressing the serious problem. In relation to organisational crises, Snowden and Boone [72] state: "The minute you encounter a crisis, appoint a reliable manager or crisis management team to resolve the issue. At the same time, pick out a separate team and focus its members on the opportunities for doing things differently. ...
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The Greek island of Lesvos is a holiday destination that became the main entry point for forced migrants to Europe during 2015 and 2016. These circumstances of disruptive societal change are used as the basis for developing a causal and dynamic model that creates public value in institutional voids. The clash between a holiday location and a humanitarian-ecological disaster and the fact that volunteers were the frontline response at the border of the EU in a politically complex situation made this, at the time, a very special case. The attention of celebrities and the media, Lesvos’ geographical proximity to Turkey, the historical conflicts between the two neighbouring countries, the lack of interaction between local people and the involvement of international NGOs spurred conflicts between various actors, causing social fragmentation on the island. The model identifies the core aspects of strengthening social capital and building trust to counter such societal fragmentation. Following Archer’s morphogenetic approach as a meta-concept, and the identification of causalities for understanding the social dynamics on Lesvos as a starting point, an extended version of Moore’s public value concept was used to build the empirical basis for the development of the model. The model presented can be used to distinguish between three very separate pathways of creating public value. I call this public value (PV) outcome creation. These pathways are described separately by using causal loop diagrams (CLDs). When aligned, they suggest a causal understanding of how adaptive leadership and collaborative governance can be a core element and a generative mechanism of social change that creates public value. Although the paper draws on a case study that is relevant to migration studies, it is not a migration study, but rather an attempt to use and improve “social-theory reflection” by applying a systems thinking approach as we embark on addressing public value creation, social problems and social-systems transformation (in institutional voids).
... A practical model, then, functions to equip actors in their action strategies through sense making in their situation, not through dictating a 'correct' response. In situations of social complexity, where phronesis is typically a desirable virtue, cause and effect relationships are notoriously hard or impossible to determine, and this makes certainty impossible when deciding on action; what is indicated in situations of social complexity are decisions based on 'safe-to-fail' provisional actions (Snowden, 2002;Snowden and Boone, 2007); phronetic models should function to inform such decisions. Situations for such models may be indeed coercive, that is where stakeholders "have divergent interests and, if free to express them, would hold irreconcilable values and beliefs" (Jackson, 2020b, p.5). ...
Frustration among systems thinking practitioners and academics surfaces from time to time at the apparently limited real-world influence of systems methodologies and frameworks. Critical systems thinking (CST), in particular, faces many of the challenges common to qualitative research, and has the additional challenge that its principal modality is to offer ways of conceptualising. This paper argues that recent explorations of phronetic social science (PSS) provide a useful conceptual frame to discuss and enhance the value of CST. We outline some characteristics of phronetic models and how to conceive and evaluate systemically-informed phronetic models. By way of illustration, the paper describes the phronetic framing of two practical tools to support collaborative practice, each built on existing systemic models. Finally, we discuss the potential value of informing PSS with insights drawn from CST, and CST with insights drawn from the emerging field of PSS.
The transformation from physical systems into digital-physical systems puts new engineering and technology management challenges at the foreground. This paper explores how industrial firms engaged in such systems simultaneously can address the seemingly disjunct properties of criticality and generativity in platform-based systems including the connected (inter)-organizational processes and related strategic choices. The in-depth embedded single case study of avionics, the electronics on aircraft, underline the importance of (1) considering organizational and technology aspects together, (2) the long-term gradual transition towards digitalization, and (3) openness in innovation including temporality and cross-industry aspects. Digital innovation appears as a double-edged sword as it enables mastering an increasingly complex system, facilitating its safe operation and maintenance, but at the same time requires new approaches to manage increased complexity during the development and evolution of systems.
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RESUMO: Responsividade significa, de forma intencional, criar condições para continuamente escanear e analisar situações e processos, escutar expectativas, opiniões e necessidades das pessoas que recebem ou implementam um programa e, da maneira mais aberta, ágil e potente possível, reagir, modificar ações, incluir novos atores, convidar à participação e construir coletivamente um programa melhor para todos e para cada contexto. O objetivo desse artigo é discutir contribuições do processo responsivo em programas complexos, assim como descrever tipos e níveis de responsividade como os utilizados no programa "A Convivência Ética na Escola", facilitando a transposição para programas de mais larga escala e políticas públicas. ABSTRACT: Responsiveness means, in an intentional way, to create conditions to continuously scan and analyze situations and processes, collect expectations, opinions and necessities from people that receive or implement a program and, in the most open, agile and powerful possible way to react, modify actions, include new agents, invite for participation, and collectively construct a better program for everyone in every context. The objective of this paper is to discuss contributions of responsive processes in complex programs as well as to describe kinds and levels of responsiveness as those used in the program “Ethical Coexistence at School” facilitating the transposition to larger scale programs and to public policies.
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