Cynefin Framework

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Epistemological framework from Dave Snowden, distinguishing different levels of problems, requiring different cognitive methodologies (or rather: frameworks), to solve them.


Graphic at


Robert Paterson:

  • "Some problems are Simple and are subject to simple cause and effect. I do this and that always happens.
  • Some problems are Complicated and I need to know a lot to find the answer, say design a jet engine or put on a TV show, but once I have the body of knowledge again results are going to be there.

Our new problems tend to be Complex or Chaotic.

In a Complex Problem, say such as the financial collapse, you can only know the cause after the event. It is only then that you can "See the Pattern". Pattern and Story are the only way that we can comprehend a Complex Problem. To make things more difficult, if you did find the cause, and re ran the event, it would turn out differently. For in Complex situations the causes and the effects interact and you Never get the same answer.

But the Pattern can offer you a bounded set of probabilities. This is more like Quantum Mechanics than Newtonian Physics. History does not repeat but as someone said "It Rhymes". So if you find the Pattern, you have at least found the framework. It is like sailing. The Pattern gives you the chart with the tides, the rocks etc, but every days sailing in that water is different. With a good chart, a navigator can reach port 999 times out of 1,000.

There are also Patterns that govern Patterns. We call these Paradigms. They are large Patterns that govern a series of shifting realities.

The shift from one Paradigm/Governing Pattern to another is a Chaotic Problem.

The new cannot be known. It can only Emerge via trial and error. The new will be in opposition to the old." (

More Information

Video explaining Cynefin at