Bojan Radej reviews the EJRC field guide for decision-makers on managing complexity and chaos in times of crisis, based on Snowden’s Cynefin model

Cynefin hits again

In a special document published by the European Joint Research Centre, Snowden and Rancati recently presented a field guide for decision-makers on managing complexity and chaos in times of crisis based on Snowden’s Cynefin model. The guide requires managers to first contain crises by enforcing stabilising elements, then to adapt by repurposing their operations to generate a radical innovation in order to transcend the crisis.I have no doubt that the presented views are noteworthy especially for those who are directly involved in crisis management and connected concerns in science, research, and governance. But crisis management with its planned character and stabilising functions cannot appropriately present management challenges in complexity that is ruled by radical uncertainty (uncertainty can be localised, or limited but never removed as an essential feature of complexity).Social complexity is about overcoming deep change during a transformational meta crisis. Complexity is not a characteristic feature of ordinary sectoral crises that may be overcome in 3-5 years (like financial crises), its time frame is probably an order of magnitude longer, like that of climate change or global instabilities concerning health, safety, technological and socio-economic issues.For Snowden and Rancati, our world is homogeneously ‘complex’ (actually chaotic). They award it a general feature, which complexity as an originally hybrid principle located in the middle between order and chaos does not possess. Complexity is not integrative as a unifier but as an intermediator between order and chaos, as has been lucidly presented by Stacey in the unfortunately abandoned Agreement Certainty Matrix.Snowden and the new Stacey then do not see their objects of concern between order and chaos but on the edge of chaos – between complexity and chaos (the authors even apply a combined term ‘complexity/chaos’). This is actually a blessed place where old rules fall apart while new ones are not jet available. In this area, constructivists find themselves free from the rigid contradictions of reality. From the edge, they independently produced very similar conservative micro-macro responses to the challenge of complexity as being essentially a middle ground concept.One cannot overlook the obvious contradiction of that perspective. Despite declaring themselves naturalists their approach is not analytical and formal. They are blue-blooded constructivists of the design school that typically leaves out any logical justification of its outcomes (see Iskander in HBR, 5/XI/2018). A similar doubt is expressed by Rick Davies who pointed to the problematic logical structure of Snowden’s matrix. Snowden promptly responded with ‘Ceci n’est pas une pipe’ (matrix) again favouring design thinking.Snowden, Rancati, and Stacey, but hopefully not also JRC, deny complexity its core mesoscopic character. It is not enough to look only at the dogmatic issues of a discipline in this case. The document is not a scientific paper but a field guide that endorses its view, quite anti-naturalistically, as a cure for radical uncertainty, instead of an assistant through the nascent transformative era, on how to live and if possible also thrive in radical uncertainty.Further reading on mesoscopic complexity:…/social-complexity-complex…/

source (the Complexity Explorer by SFI group on facebook)

Complexity Explorers (by SFI) | Facebook