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Is GROWS for You? The Cynefin Model

The Cynefin model describes five different decision-making domains:

  • Obvious: “Known knowns,” the situation is stable, and the relationship between cause and effect is clear: if you do X, expect Y.
  • Complicated: “Known unknowns,” the relationship between cause and effect requires analysis or expertise; there are a range of right answers.
  • Complex: “Unknown unknowns.” Cause and effect can only be deduced in retrospect, and there are no right answers. These systems are impervious to a reductionist approach, because your very actions change the situation in unpredictable ways.
  • Chaotic: “Emergency.” Things are actively on fire. Cause and effect are unclear, this is an emergency situation, first priority is to “staunch the bleeding.”
  • Disorder: “Clueless.” You don’t know which of the domains you are operating in. This is the murky area in the middle of the figure. Very dangerous, as any decision here is likely the wrong one.

    CC BY-SA 3.0, Dave Snowden

Scrum and even waterfall can work well in the Obvious domain. More agile approaches are required for Complicated domains. A high level of skill and ability is needed for Complex domains. The GROWS Method™ will help you and your teams navigate the treacherous waters of Complex domains, and help you avoid slipping into Chaos. (Figure by Dave Snowden, CC BY-SA 3.0)

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