One of the biggest challenges with senior executives we face is getting them to understand that dealing with complex issues is different! It is often the case that they are using the “tried and true” approaches that they have had since business school, and are reluctant to try something different. Often we get asked to articulate the outcome that will be achieved by using complexity tools and Sensemaker. When we give the standard response – we do not know the outcome as the processes used are emergent and in a complex system there is no right answer, we will either get shown the door or “peak” their curiosity getting asked to explain further. For those situations where we are given the opportunity to explain, the Cynefin framework drawn on a piece of paper works wonders. You can see it challenges pre-existing entrained patterns, but does make sense – especially to senior execs with huge numbers of competing priorities.

The one experience where this was brought home was when we were asked to provide a presentation on complexity to the senior management team of a government body. We had had little exposure to this statutory body before so had a standard presentation prepared. It became clear that the Senior Exec present intuitively “got complexity”, but he had a management team that were in large threatened by such concepts and were cynical to say the least. With that background, we tossed out the standard presentation deck and had an open discussion which started with introducing the Cynefin framework. Well what was supposed to be a one hour presentation turned into a two hour discussion where the exec team actively engaged and were placing the issues they faced into the framework in the context of their business. At the end of the session – had we convinced them to try another approach? It would be naiive of me to say yes. Had we sown the seeds that there were other possible approaches beyond cause and effect – absolutely.

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