SCCC: Simple, Complicated, Complex, Chaotic

Folks, we have an important issue on terminology that we need to address.

In two comments to my previous post, Dave Snowden has made it clear that he objects to any reference to the term ‘Cynefin‘ that does not conform exactly to his specification for that term.

This includes any usage of the term ‘Cynefin-categorization’, which I’ve been using in order to distinguish (and advise others to distinguish) the usage of the ‘Simple, Complicated, Complex, Chaotic’ category-set, from Cynefin-proper. Snowden has made it clear that the term ‘Cynefin-categorization’ is not acceptable for this or any other purpose.

We are reminded that Cynefin-proper is a sensemaking-framework, and that in general the term ‘Cynefin’ should not be used in relation to any form of categorisation. If the term is used to describe categories, that usage must include all five Cynefin categories, including the central domain of ‘Disorder’. Under no circumstances may it be used to indicate the four-item category-set of Simple, Complicated, Complex, Chaotic. We are also reminded that the Cynefin framework has a very specific graphic-format, and that the term ‘Cynefin’ should never be used in relation to a simple 2×2 matrix.

The practical problem is that the ‘Simple, Complicated, Complex, Chaotic’ category-set and its variants are in common use throughout the enterprise-architecture discipline and many others, and have been so for many years. Although I seem once again to have taken the brunt of Snowden’s ire on this, the reality is that a lot of people are using that type of category-set and describing it as ‘Cynefin’ – usually as a result of (mis)-reading the Cynefin page on Wikipedia. A lot of people – as in Nigel Green’s example – are using that type of category-set with a 2×2 matrix and describing as ‘Cynefin’, or ‘based on Cynefin’. It’s clear that we cannot and must not do this any more.

Obviously the full category-set ‘Simple, Complicated, Complex, Chaotic’ is too long for routine use, which is why many have used ‘Cynefin’ as a convenient shorthand. Again, we cannot and must not do this any more: hence we need an alternative shorthand term.

The obvious choice is the simple acronym: SCCC for Simple, Complicated, Complex, Chaotic. (It could be shortened to SC3, but I’d prefer not… 🙂 )

Could we perhaps adopt this from now on?

Or does anyone have a better alternative? Suggestions, please?

— —

On a separate but related matter, Snowden’s comments to that post once again make clear his opinions on the (lack of) quality and value of my work, such as stating that the tools and techniques that I’ve developed for sensemaking and the like are inherently “invalid … in certain essential aspects”, and insinuating that the cross-map techniques for ‘context-space mapping’ described in my book Everyday Enterprise-Architecture and elsewhere should be dismissed as a ‘hash-up’.

Which, I’ll admit, does hurt: critique is important, and I do value genuine critique, but this feels more like wholesale destruction just for the dubious enjoyment of doing so… Oh well.

There’s no question Snowden is entitled to his opinion, of course. And I’d certainly agree that he’s forceful in asserting those opinions. But unlike some others, I do suffer from deep and persistent self-doubt, and I’ll admit that this has thrown me straight back into that space again, seriously doubting whether what I’ve been doing has any value to anyone at all…

So I’m asking for your honest advice in this: is Snowden’s opinion the right one here? Does my work have any value to you, or to any others that you know, in enterprise-architectures and elsewhere? Should I just accept his view that what I’m doing is valueless to everyone, and the implication that I really ought to give up and walk away from it all, to leave you and him and everyone else  in peace? Or if you consider that it does have any value, what can I do to make it better, and perhaps more resilient to the kind of dismissals and denigration that we see here and elsewhere?

Comments/suggestions? Over to you, if would?

Many thanks, anyway.

19 Comments on “SCCC: Simple, Complicated, Complex, Chaotic

  1. Tom,

    I do not know Dave or his work or the way he interacts with other people and also nothing about what happened between you and Dave in the past. So my reaction is purely that from an on this point neutral bystander (who is not speaking native English so probably I’ve missed some essential undertones) :

    I didn’t perceive Dave’s comments as overly negative or as a wholesale destruction. But that is not really the point I want to make. The point is that you perfectly well know that there are people who are following you and learning from you. But only you can decide for yourself who you want to learn from.

    I use this basic rule from Hugh McCleod:

    Ignore Everybody – You don’t know if your idea is any good the moment it’s created. Neither does anyone else. The most you can hope for is a strong gut feeling that it is. And trusting your feelings is not as easy as the optimists say it is. There’s a reason why feelings scare us. []

    So despite the self-doubt, please keep following your gut feelings and keep sharing your ideas because I want to learn more from you!

  2. @Peter Bakker Many thanks, Peter – I must admit I’m struggling a bit at the moment.

    I’ve just wasted another whole morning struggling with this: so yes, it’s time I got back to my own work now. 😐

    Thanks again, anyway.

  3. And your work is important! Don’t you think Steve Jobs had critics … saying things must be a specific way that was different from how he saw it. You are changing the #entarch world!

  4. Tom:

    1) Your. Work. Has. Value. Every time I think my work does not have value, I think how angry I was at Gogol for pitching the last part of Dead Souls into the fire. How dare he decide for me what I need? How dare you? How dare any of us? To declare yourself unimportant is the height of arrogance.

    2) Why do you need categories?

    3) If you need categories, some equally useful ones have been available for thousands of years. Plenty of wisdom to go round; it’s only the names that are scarce.

    4) When you say that “real people often find a rule-laden environment all but impossible to bear” I can’t help pointing out that the opposite is equally true. There are no rules about reactions to rules. There are only people. Besides, machines might someday love the complex even more than people do. When that happens “we” will say the same thing: there are no rules about reactions to rules. There are only people.

    Always love reading what you are thinking about.


  5. Hi Tom,

    I am also not a native speaker and as Peter said I am also probably missing a lot of history or undertones, because I didn’t perceive Dave’s comments that negatively. But as you obviously need justification of your work (additional to number of visits on your blog;) – right now behind my back are two A0 printouts – the business model canvas and …. wait for it…. wait for it even longer…. your enterprice canvas, and with post-its all over it:) In my free time I follow your blog and tweets (and man, either you are a fast writter or I am a sow reader, but that takes o lot of time!:) and you also managed to change my attitude to the work I do, which is a big shift of a mindset – much bigger achievement than any framework. That’s my two cents.


  6. I’m an emotional person and I find myself in emotional discussions from time to time. I guess this is a cultural thing, Mediterranean people like to talk out loud, and show emotions more than others. So I don’t mind people putting out their ideas with a little unusual language. That being said, I’m following your blog and all the discussions with Snowden from very early times. In the beginning it was interesting, but then all his comments are very rude and with no positive intention. To be blunt, he became the troll of your blog. Knowing the displeasure he causes at me I can’t imagine how you’re coping with that.

  7. @Cynthia Kurtz – Cynthia – welcome as always! 🙂

    1. … “To declare yourself unimportant is the height of arrogance.” – ouch… painfully good point… 😐 – the last fragment of ego, I suppose? Sigh… However painful, many thanks for the reminder.

    2. “Why do you need categories?” – To me, categories are a really useful Simple-domain tactic that allows the kind of fast response that’s also needed in the Chaotic-domain, as a ‘seed’ around which other ideas can coalesce. Overlaying sets of categories on top of each other is even more useful there, especially if there’s a good mix between alignment and dissonance. That’s the basis for what I’ve termed ‘context-space mapping’. There’s more on that in the assessment of Cynefin that I’ve mentioned in the more recent ‘toad in the road’ post, where you can see in live detail exactly how the process works – I probably have another day’s-worth of work to finish writing it up, but it’ll probably come out soon.

    3. “Plenty of [categories] to go round, it’s only the names that are scarce.” Yup, exactly. The practical problem is that the terms Simple, Complicated, Complex and Chaotic are in very common use in many different contexts, with many different meanings – and yet we have one person who seemingly believes that he alone has the God-given ‘right’ to ‘possess’ and overrule every other one of those meanings. That’s a real problem: very much ‘a toad in the road’, as I’ve put it in that post. And to be blunt I’m not going to accept his claim any more: its only basis is bullshit and bluster, and it’s more than about time that we all called him on it…

    4(a). “…the opposite is equally true. There are no rules about reactions to rules.” Yes – and that’s exactly what that previous post was about.

    4(b). “There are only people.” So, so strongly agree with you on this… especially in relation to enterprises and enterprise-architectures. That’s been the main thrust of my work for all these years – even if it (and I) sometimes get a bit lost in the fog sometimes… 😐

    Once again, many thanks! – will keep in touch, yes?

  8. @Ondrej Galik – Ondrej – once again, many thanks!

    In particular, it really helps me to know that my work has been of value to you. If there’s more that I need to do – and perhaps especially, any way in which I could make it easier for a non-native English-speaker to follow – please let me know?

  9. @Iyigun Cevik – Iyigun – likewise, many thanks!

    And yes, it’s probable that one of my ‘sins’ is that I’m perhaps too open in my emotions for many English-people’s taste… It’s certainly true that I’ve never really felt that I fitted in an English culture (but then I’m not sure that I actually fit anywhere, so perhaps that’s a moot point… 😐 )

    “To be blunt, he became the troll of your blog.” – yes, exactly. Oh well.

    “Knowing the displeasure he causes at me I can’t imagine how you’re coping with that.” – ‘with difficulty’, is the short answer… 😐

    It certainly has helped me to have come across Bob Sutton’s ‘No Asshole Rule‘, and recognise that the symptoms he describes in his “two tests for the presence of the Asshole” match exactly to what I’ve felt at every encounter, and hence, in that sense, that I’m not alone. (Perhaps here I ought to emphasise that it’s the abusive behaviour that is ‘the Asshole’, not the person as such.) Hence the only wise option – as with all troll-like behaviour, in fact – is to invoke Sutton’s ‘Rule’: namely “block and avoid all contact”, which I now do. (As do a significant number of other people, apparently: I now know several fellow-victims in person, for a start.)

    The other aspect is to get the other side of the abuse and turn it into a useful challenge. That’s what I’ve tried to do in each case, though it’s always difficult when there’s further attack going on, or further attempts to tear everything down whilst I’m in the middle of trying to create it (see my Sidewise post ‘On innovation, scaffolding, foundations and Portakabins‘, which likewise arose in response to yet another attack from him). In the current case, it’s come out as my more recent post ‘Coping with ‘the toad in the road’‘ – which again is about the framework in question, not the person – and also the use of context-space mapping to assess Cynefin itself, which I haven’t published yet because there’s still a bit more work to do on it.

    Those are probably the most useful ‘coping-mechanisms’: block-and-avoid, and refocus on the work. But yes, it’s incredibly draining: and since, in reality, no-one ‘wins’ from such abusive-behaviours, incredibly pointless too. Oh well.

  10. I have been consuming your content over the past few weeks with earnest and truly appreciate the availability of it.

    I’ve been toying with the use of the business model canvas for sometime in alot of the work I do, mutual responsibility thinking and so on. Not near the depth and obvious infused experience that you have…so your thought, techniques and tools have inspired and given me a confidence that may have otherwise been frail at best.

    I am currently working on two initiaives at an organization level, developing a new business model for one and capturing the current state for another, working through the vision to goal process to inform a target business model which will be the basis for the other architecture layers and elements. Thought is the business model canvas can serve as the foundational architecture element for an organization like an enteprise canvas for an enteprise. Although, I continue to think that the enteprise canvas can just as easily serve an individual organization taking in the enterprise vision and other organizations as influencers, drivers, etc… Even though enterprise and organization are two distinct things…other than additional resources (e.g. rules, policies, etc..) couldn’t the canvas serve them both? Is the business model of the enteprise canavas individual organizational business models summarized or glued together? Either way I intend to incorporate alot of your “stuff” into the service I am offering and would love to bounce back my experiences in do time. The only other nugget I need to crack is the usage of context-space mapping. I’m coming around to it, but wrapping your brain around what you may already naturally do is complex! and then how to utlize that as a third party (not sure if that even makes sense)

    • Hi Adam

      The Business Model Canvas is very good indeed at what it was designed to do: namely business-model development, as part of business-architecture. It describes an organisation’s business, but not the organisation itself (it’s structure, relationships, responsibilities and so on) – that’s a rather important distinction that you need to bear in mind for this type of work.

      An organisation has its own vision in relation to the broader shared-enterprise, but again it’s not the same as the vision of the shared enterprise itself. You’ll have seen plenty of organisational visions – “to be the best provider of pig-nuts in the West Midlands” or whatever – and they’re fine for their own purpose, guiding and giving a sense of identity to the organisation. But it’s really important to understand that the shared-enterprise vision must have a much broader scope, because it has to provide a shared anchor for all to players in that extended enterprise: our own organisation, suppliers, customers, competitors, maintainers of the market-space, standards-bodies for the overall market, and so on and so on. The shared-enterprise works by connecting each of the players together via that shared-vision, through what is in essence a transitory shared-story. (By the way, note that isn’t in Business Model Canvas, because in essence it assumes that that story-mechanism already exists.) That’s why Enterprise Canvas goes right up to the row-0 layer of shared-vision and shared-values.

      Enterprise Canvas also goes down in the other direction, right down to the operations and action-records layers. (Business Model Canvas is essentially a row-3 exercise, sometimes touching row-4: it says that some asset or process or relationship should exist, but not much more than that: implementation is often the dreaded “Somebody Else’s Problem”. 🙂 )

      You can use Enterprise Canvas to cover the entire scope: it’s just that context-specific models like Business Motivation Model or Business Model Canvas or Archimate or BPMN are usually a bit prettier… 🙂 and easier to understand for their specific part of the scope, of course. The real role of Enterprise Canvas is to help link everything across the whole of the scope, providing a bridge across all of those context-specific model-types.

      On context-space mapping, I have a worked-example that I’m still finishing off at present, on how to use the technique to identify the scope and limitations of a specific framework. More on that in the next few days. Hope this helps enough for now, anyway?

  11. Hi Tom,

    Appreciate you taking the time to reply and I completely understand your message. I think I misguided you by my comment, “I continue to think that the enteprise canvas can just as easily serve an individual organization taking in the enterprise vision and other organizations as influencers, drivers, etc…”

    The reality is, rarely in large organizations like the one I am working with now, do I get the opportunity to guide the enteprise. Normally it is at the organizational level, sometimes divisionsal (just as big as some orgs). But I try and utilize the same approach and work with its touchpoints to ensure it aligns with the overall enterprise. All of this with the hopes that the approach and outcomes become viral and help guide / influence the work of others …eventually allowing me the opportunity to work at the enteprise level. Easier said then done, but I am a firm believer in taking the same approach and thought process regardless of the level…always being aware of the surronding influences and touchpoints. I think the combination of these work products can provide a solid basis for telling the business story regardless of the level and then the resulting impact to the enablers of the “story”. Thanks again for taking the time to reply


    • Adam – I think the main thing I’d suggest is to remember to keep the focus on ‘decisionsupport‘ rather than ‘decisionmaking‘: in most cases it’s the client‘s tasks to make the actual guiding-decisions, not ours. As long as you keep on the focus on there, then the skills that you’re building are actually transferable to just about any domain or subdomain within the overall enterprise-architecture space. If you try to go to a ‘decision-making’ role too early, you’ll end up losing your credibility, in a way that can be very hard to recover for quite a long time – and the skills are less transferable, too.

      The other point, as you mentioned, is to keep the focus also on story. Story engages; story makes it human; story embeds and imbues meaning. It really is worth taking some classes or whatever in business-oriented story-telling and narrative-knowledge: for example, one useful place to start is the website, run by my friend Shawn Callahan and colleagues down in Melbourne, Australia.

  12. Definitely going the story route and am going to have the business partners help build it…because it’s our story. Also thanks for the link and advice. I agree completely, I am decision support primarily. Only concern I have at this time is the unknown, which I understand to be ok and normal, but when everything you believe in is somewhat on the line it can be concerning. I’ve been invovled in several engagments delivering “master plans” that take in strategy, align intiatives based on a comparison of architecture states, produce a “strategic” (ha) roadmap and then picking up alot of the solution planning and architecture work after…but there was always something missing. The true why we are doing business and what we offer and how. In a plain simple way that can then translate into strategy or whatever people choose to call it. and at the forefront of it all is a vision and accompaying role.. another fuzzy part will be tying it back to an enterpise vision or back up the ladder or chain of mission statements and goals…This is somewhat due to size and also because of the loose nature of how this is normally done and cascaded throughout large enterprises. You are never as close to the truth as you think you are. Either way, exciting times ahead and because I’m leveraging alot of your thought and techniques with what I’ve been doing for a good 15+years in the EA/SA/TA space I would really like to share my work with you and get your take on it after.

    Outcome is a strategic / business enablement roadmap that outlines how the organization of concern will move from where it is today to tomorrow with the backing of a solid business model and plan (e.g. marketing / business plan) and how that model and plan sheds light on and ties in the various key enablers. Technology being one of them, but it is only one of many assets or levers that make an enterprise (or in this case organization) work.

    Thanks again…timing should be by year end

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