Context-space mapping and the Chaotic domain

(This series of posts explores a concept of ‘context-space’ which in part draws on a categorisation immortalised in a certain well-known diagram. It must be emphasised that this is not about ‘That Welsh Framework‘ (aka twf) which that diagram illustrates: for details on twf, please contact this company. I apologise for these absurd aliases, but regrettably their necessity has been forced upon us by others.)

We seem to be iterating steadily towards a full description of what I’ve termed context-space mapping (as a more permanent name than the temporary label ‘tinc‘). For example, there’s been some very useful discussion on the previous post, especially by enterprise-architects Paul Jansen and Sally Bean. Paul Jansen followed this up with another Tweet:

@tetradian May the ‘chaotic approach’ be the key to #tinc?

In fact this leads to what is probably the fundamental difference between twf and context-space mapping (aka tinc): the role of the Chaotic domain. This particularly applies in terms of the respective views of repeatability within the context.

In the hope of preventing yet more repercussions, I won’t say anything about twf‘s approach at this point, other than to express my opinion that, in the terms of context-space mapping, its focus is primarily on the Complex domain, which in turn leads to an emphasis on contexts that are ‘partly-repeatable’ in highly complex ‘unordered’ ways.

Context-space mapping, however, needs to cover all repeatability-types. As twf‘s proponent indicates, the Simple domain of presumed-repeatability is covered by Taylorism et al.; the Complicated domain of analysed-repeatability by hard-Systems Thinking and the like; and the Complex by twf and so on. But there’s so far been little or nothing to cover the Chaotic domain of ‘barely-repeatable’ events and processes. So in practice it’s likely that that’s where whole-of-scope techniques such as context-space mapping will have the most impact.

The central theme in the Chaotic domain of practice is low- to zero-repeatability: some part(s) of the practice cannot be repeated, either because the conditions have changed – including the awareness and experience of the person doing the work. Conventional ‘scientific-analysis’ approaches (Complicated-domain) rely on repeatability, so they’re actually not all that much use in the Chaotic components of any real-world task – in fact will often be misleading because they provide an illusion of predictability. In a way, the same is true of many Complex-domain techniques: they give us a much more reliable picture of an overall uncertain context, but we can’t reliably apply that in reverse to tell us what to do for a specific ‘market-of-one’, such as a specific medical diagnosis.

Ability to engage appropriately in the Chaotic-domain in this sense is almost a definition of skill. It’s also a key component of almost all knowledge-work – which is why this concern is coming much more to the fore, as knowledge-work becomes an increasingly important part of the overall economy.

At the business-process level, one of the key figures is Sigurd Rinde, whose concept of ‘barely-repeatable processes’ is the focus for his Thingamy business-process-execution software. The whole point of Thingamy is that the processes themselves are made up as they go along, by the people doing the work, expressing and applying their expertise. Underneath this, however, is a consistent Simple structure that records every decision, every artefact, every transfer of responsibility – which makes it possible to create any required reports from the process, including conventional statistical analysis. The result is nicely summarised on Sig’s other website, – so-called from his tag-line “Here’s 30 Megs. Now go run Germany”, which in principle is entirely feasible with this kind of decision-support/decision-tracking software. Sig is not alone in this, of course – for example, Stafford Beer developed something similar that in effect ran the entire economy of Chile for a while, way back in the early 1970s – but Thingamy is probably the best example of a software package available today that is designed for true Chaotic-domain processes.

Context-space mapping is part of what needs to happen before we settle on any technique or tool such as Thingamy. It’s about mapping the options available to us, and the decisions that we make within ‘solution-space’, as part of an overall process of sensemaking in order to arrive at appropriate actions for the context. One of the key points in this is an awareness that we are part of the context, part of the ‘solution’: in the classic Chaotic-domain sense, there is a boundary, and there is no boundary, always in the same moment.

We always start from ‘reality’ – that which in twf is termed the ‘disorder’ domain. (Everything does in fact take place within that domain: any purported subdivisions – such as Simple, Chaotic and suchlike – are sensemaking-abstractions that we place onto that domain, but are not actually ‘real’ as such.) From there, we would move into some kind of recursive OODA loop (Observe/Orient/Decide/Act), where sensemaking itself forms one or more of the earliest iterations. In those terms, context-space mapping would typically proceed as follows:

  • Observe: What is ‘the context’ here?
  • Orient: How do I make sense of what I’m seeing?
    1. What parts of the context appear to be unique (Chaotic), unordered or ‘wicked-problem’ (Complex), complicated but repeatable (Complicated) or universal (Simple)? Using that categorisation, map out the ‘problem-space’.
    2. Given that categorisation, what cross-maps would be useful for sensemaking?
      Note: There are an infinite number of cross-maps that could be used: some examples shown in this series include:

      • here: repeatability and action-tactics; domains and tetradian asset-dimensions; time versus focus; Jungian domains
      • here: twf tactics and types of practice; timescale versus ‘bindedness’; development of embodied ‘best-practice’
      • here: repeatability and ‘truth’; marketing versus sales; the ‘plan / do / check / act’ cycle
      • here: ISO-9000 quality-model; skill-levels; automated versus manual processes; asset-types; data, information, knowledge, wisdom
      • here: cause/effect relationships; decision-mode, timescale and level of abstraction
      • here: nature of boundaries between domains
      • here: phases of matter
    3. Using the categorisations from the cross-maps, what available tools and techniques are ‘situated’ in what regions of the maps’ ‘solution-space’? What can we learn from this?
  • Decide: Given what I have learned from sensemaking, what should be my ‘action-plan’?
    1. Select from the available tools/techniques.
    2. Decide on a plan as to how, why, when, where, by whom, with what, and in what order each of the selected tools or techniques should be used.
  • Act:  What am I doing as I am doing, and what do I see as I am doing?
    1. Enact the desired action.
    2. Apply the same overall OODA-loop to the action taken – recursively, where appropriate – for review, further sensemaking, decision and action.
  • Repeat as appropriate.

(Some people might suggest that this kind of OODA-loop fits more within a twf-style Complex-domain mode than Chaotic-domain. True, there are important similarities, such as the shared focus on ‘unorder’ versus the Complicated/Simple notion of ‘order’. But the key distinction is that this acts on a single, individual, specific context rather than a Complex-domain collective – and is often also much closer to real-time than most Complex-domain decision-making.)

The above is a start towards how we would use context-space mapping, anyway. I’ll leave it there for now: any constructive comments, ideas and suggestions would be most welcome, as usual 🙂 – over to you?

Previous posts in this series:


5 Comments on “Context-space mapping and the Chaotic domain

  1. One of the key ingredients of my message to people for years now is: “humans think they are a camera but in fact they are a projector” while, in fact, humans can ‘act’ like a camera (only) once they ‘shut themselves down’. Any; all deliberate acts will turn on the projector. As far as I understand it, the beauty of say dowsing is that … it shuts down the deliberate acting to such an extend that the dowser becomes a ‘tool’ of the dowsing, which is a camera process.
    As you write: “what I’m emphasising here – i.e. sensemaking rather than intervention as such” could, following the camera / projector analogy, also be read as: “what I’m emphasizing here – – i.e. objective recording rather than projecting as such” which illustrates, I hope, the paradox. So I like it very much when you say “Ability to engage appropriately in the Chaotic-domain [in this sense] is [almost] a definition of skill.” I suggest the words between [ ] can be deleted. As I said before (and as disliked by ‘twf’): the left brain is rational/simple-complicated, the right brain is creative/complex-chaotic. One cannot let the left brain find either approaches, sense making or interventions for right-brain ‘terrain’ ?
    The ‘process’ of Act-Sense-Respond within ‘twf’ does seem to leave chaos rather to itself (confirming the disbelieve in right-brain skills?) and seems to suggest or imply ‘Random Act’ as a starting point. Or, if not, it does certainly imply further work on this, hence context-space mapping. And yet ‘another process’ seems to appear (OODA), potentially wiping aside intuitiveness..? A closer look however assumes an unlimited(?) range of cross-maps in the Orient phase. It is with regard to that path that I previously proposed either differential diagnosis (for this phase) or even the (counter-rational) provocative therapy approach. What I meant is that we must seek a way out of the ‘twf’ randomness of acting (which will not do well) and too a way out of the pure rational waterfall approach (linear process) of the left-brain = the simple + complicated ‘domains’. In fact, I perceive the approaches of the complex domain through ‘twf’ as still highly rational and ‘left-brainish’. So, true chaos approach must by its nature be a merger between intuitiveness plus even randomness and rational sensemaking… I believe this requires a true paradigm shift. Maybe context-space mapping will become similar to cropping, to experimenting, to discarding… As dependent as we have become of rational processes, the standard sensemaking almost unavoidably draws us to the lines-on-the-drawing (as with simple, complicated and even complex) where the chaotic is all about the white in-between the (moving) lines… And so I see sense in OODA where the Orient-phase would come as close to ‘moving lines’ as rationally possible: multiple lines. They may be very helpful in finding the not-chaos within the chaos, and therefore in ‘isolating’ … the chaotic.. Maybe chaos has a non-chaotic context, and identifying that will ‘make sense’ of … chaos. Before I venture into paths I cannot follow myself, I will take a rest an leave it at this for now 🙂

  2. Tom, a few observations – hope these are helpful.
    Quote 1:
    “I won’t say anything about twf’s approach at this point, other than to express my opinion that, in the terms of context-space mapping, its focus is primarily on the Complex domain, which in turn leads to an emphasis on contexts that are ‘partly-repeatable’ in highly complex ‘unordered’ ways.”

    I have a different opinion here. ‘twf’ as a framework doesn’t focus on any domain. It describes how to delineate the different domains and strategies for moving between them. The HBR article, for example, provides leadership advice for the 4 main domains. It is the CE practices and the software that are oriented more towards the Complex domain.However, I think it is true that one is encouraged to think of things as being complex as a starting point.

    Quote 2:
    “We always start from ‘reality’ – that which in twf is termed the ‘disorder’ domain”

    I’m not sure that disorder equates to reality. I believe that disorder is a sort of placeholder for things that people can’t agree on. Bear in mind that the framework and the associated complexity techniques are designed to be used by a large number of people trying to understand a situation better, rather than a consultant acting in a diagnostic/observer role.

    Finally, I’m coming round to the view that I may differ from you about the essential nature of the chaotic domain. But I have to admit that I am not an expert here and don’t really want to get embroiled too much in a discussion, because it’s not a domain that is a great deal of interest to me – I think the role of enterprise architects is to design systems that promote the long term resilience and adaptability of organisations which, to me (and as we have discussed), means focusing very much on the complex and complicated domains.

  3. Reacting to Sally’s remark “I’m not sure that disorder equates to reality”: I believe it is a choice in position that is intended, rather then a descriptive analyses. The very here and very now; the endless and only true reality of everything… does not allow for ‘judgment’ (the core of all human interference :-)) since there simply is no time for that. The true and innocent state can, from that rather poetic but also extremely realistic viewpoint, only be described as ‘disorder’. Seeing the order in it is, at best, a human judgmental projection, that takes away the innocence. Fully aware that this is not the mainstream way of looking at ‘it’ 🙂

  4. @Paul Jansen (Apologies, will have to rush this, as I need to go out – will try to come back to it later.)

    Quick comments: it’s important to remember that whilst left-brain/right-brain is a useful and valid metaphor, it _is_ only a metaphor. (The corpus-callosum that links between the two hemispheres plays a very important role, for example, and is different in ‘masculine-type’ and ‘feminine-type’ brain structures, with the latter having much greater cross-connection – hence significant differences in sensemaking styles, in which factors such as gender may play a part.)

    I think the two themes that characterise CSM/’tinc’ are a) starting from a concept of real-world ‘chaos’ rather than from an assumed abstraction of ‘order’, and b) an holistic or ‘holographic’ view of the context rather than an analytic ‘photographic’ view. (If you see only a small piece of a photograph, what you get is a disconnected fragment is very high detail; if you see only a small piece of a holograph, what you get is a blurry low-resolution picture of the whole. The crucial part of the OODA cycle in CSM is a dance between holographic and photographic – intuition and analysis, ‘right-brain’ and ‘left-brain’ – that results in ‘just-enough’ detail that is still aware of the whole. ‘Moving lines’, as you put it.

    I’m deliberately careful here to avoid making comparisons to ‘twf’, because CSM actually has a different purpose (though arguably ‘twf’ as currently practised does represent a subset of the overall space(s) covered by CSM). As Sally says, although its techniques prioritise the Complex, its _framework_ should actually cover the entire context. But the way it’s used is different, and the focus is different: we do need to stop comparing.

    More later, anyway.

  5. @Sally Bean – I’ve deliberately avoided reading ‘twf’ material for quite a while (a year or more, certainly) because the repercussions have been unpleasant, and I don’t want any more unfounded accusations of ‘plagiarism’. But you’re right, I need to re-read the HBR paper – though as I remember the ‘advice’ for the Chaotic domain was the same as before, namely ‘run away to somewhere else’?

    On the Chaotic, the reason I’m pushing so hard for this in an enterprise-architecture context is that we _need_ to design for low-repeatability/high-complexity contexts. At present the most common ‘design’ consists of ‘chuck it in the too-hard basket and hope it’ll go away’ – which is _not_ a wise option in the long-term!

    Would like to know more about your conception of the Chaotic domain, especially in relation to EA – but will have to stop here for now, as I have a meeting to go to. More later I hope – and in the meantime, thanks again.

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