Is complexity killing your business?

The way your organisation goes about work – with complexity or with simplicity – is critical to its success. When the work becomes so intricate, this complexity can kill an organisation’s ability to create value.


An organisations success is to create a product of value at the lowest possible cost – one way of doing this is being able to find the repeatable patterns in the work that is needed to create this value.  When this is then sold to people who want to benefit from it the difference between the cost of creating the value and the sale price for the value should generate a surplus of money – profit.  Profitability is seen as an important measure of success in most commercial business domains.

The Cynefin Framework

The Cynefinpronounced ku-nev-in, framework is a conceptual framework used to aid decision-making. Created by Dave Snowden for IBM Global Services, it has been described as a “sense-making device”. Cynefin is a Welsh word for habitat. Consisting of 5 decision-making contexts or “domains” – simple, chaotic, complex, complicated and disorder – it is designed to help managers identify how they perceive situations and make sense of their own and other people’s behaviours. These domains can offer a “sense of place” from which to analyse what is going on. The domains on the right; complicated and simple are ordered – cause and effect are known or can more easily be discovered. The left hand domains; chaotic and complex, are unordered – cause and effect can be deduced only with hindsight, or not at all.

Cynefin framework

Moving the processes which enable business success into the simple domain can help to ensure on-going success as it requires the organisation to be looking for novel and emergent opportunities with the strategy to enable these into the business as good and best practise as quickly as possible.

Simple: The Domain of Best Practise

Simple contexts are characterised by stability; relationships between cause & effect are easily understood by everyone and decisions are unquestioned because all parties share an understanding. If something goes wrong in a process, an employee can usually identify the problem, categorize it and respond appropriately to fix it. Functions in this context are often able to be automated, therefore there is a Digital Transformation opportunity within the Simple Domain.

Issues can occur in simple contexts through entrained thinking by leadership; the “we’ve always done it this way” response to opportunities for change, or complacency when the context changes and a lack of curiosity means that the impact is missed and the reaction happens too late.

When issues occur in the simple domain, it often collapses into Chaos, because previous success has created complacency. This shift can cause catastrophic failure, especially through disruption as a result of new technologies which were not previously considered a threat.

Cynefin framework by Edwin Stoop
Cynefin framework by Edwin Stoop

As knowledge increases, there is a “clockwise drift” from chaotic through complex and complicated to simple. Similarly, a “buildup of biases”, complacency or lack of maintenance can cause a “catastrophic failure”: a clockwise movement from simple to chaotic, represented by the “fold” between those domains. There can be counter-clockwise movement as people move on and knowledge is forgotten, or as new generations question the rules; and a counter-clockwise push from chaotic to simple can occur when a lack of order causes rules to be imposed suddenly.[1][2]

What’s your business context?

Many of the approaches taken by organisations today do not help establish the context in terms of complexity, for any given process.

The common tools used to document how the organisation works, or needs to evolve, such as Business Process Modelling or Enterprise Architecture are founded in what is already in place, or come from a Systems perspective of the business. These capabilities do not necessarily contribute to an increase in the decision intelligence needed to make the right decisions about change.

As businesses push for simplicity, the result is a reduction in operational cost. If value can increase at the same time, then business success can be achieved.

Gaining the understanding needed to make the right decisions is often seen to be complicated and time-consuming, and so businesses can focus on the easy, well-known, well-embedded aspects of how they operate, potentially missing the insight needed to make the profound change which will guarantee future success.

How LINQ helps

LINQ is different. The methodology that has been created and implemented in the LINQ tool can increase the decision intelligence needed to invoke change in a matter of weeks.

Within hours of modelling in the tool, people are having Ah ha! moments. Teams are discovering new things about the way colleagues work, the knowledge that is needed to deliver the necessary outcomes, or spotting the complexity in processes which create frustration.

Within days of use, a picture of the complexity of the current way of working is built, capturing the evidence about how things are done today. Alongside this, options for resolving challenges, or simplifying process – moving away from the experimental, the manual, the risky, or the expert process – describing a future efficient and repeatable state is built.

LINQ Hour 1 to Day 1

Within weeks of use, the story can be told to business executives containing the evidence to support the narrative, based on the value of the business outcome being delivered and the cost of enabling that outcome. The current state and the future state will be represented, set against the value of making any change.

Within months of use, changes are being made in the business to remove complexity from processes, reducing the operational cost of delivering outcomes, making the business more profitable.

LINQ Week 1 to Month 1

LINQ helps business executives identify the opportunity to simplify the business and become more profitable.

If you’re ready to identify your opportunities for becoming more profitable, try LINQ out today.


[1] Snowden, David J.; Boone, Mary E. (November 2007). “A Leader’s Framework for Decision Making”Harvard Business Review, 69–76.

[2] Kurtz, Cynthia F.; Snowden, David J. (2003). “The new dynamics of strategy: Sense-making in a complex and complicated world”(PDF). IBM Systems Journal42 (3): 462–483. doi:10.1147/sj.423.0462Archived (PDF) from the original on 18 September 2006.