In the Cynefin framework, the domains are really shades with some clear boundaires. Strategic work using Cynefin is about making various moves between different domains for different reasons. This is called Cynefin dynamics, and there’s an old but good paper on it here.
In Cynefin dynamics there is a strategic move of “taking a shallow dive into chaos” which is useful for strategic purposes when one needs to break pattern entrainment. It is a very useful move in teaching contexts when we are trying to get people to let go of some of their fixed ways of seeing and doing things. Even putting a group in a circle can be a shallow dive into chaos. The idea here is that in complexity you have a system with a permeable boundary with lots of connections between the elements in the system (people, ideas, resources). That allows for emergence to happen. In chaos, the connections break down and you need to hold a tight container – nothing is emerging, everything is breaking. So if you want to take a shallow dive into chaos, the container needs to be very tight, very constrained, and the relationships between people and ideas that are within that container are very open. That’s how you break patterns without creating a deep experience of chamos, which would be when everything breaks down, including the container. Sometimes that is required, but there is a much lower likelihood of recovering from that kind of thing. I wouldn’t call that “leadership.” It’s more like “abandonment.” No one wants to create a deep dive into chaos unless you want to create a civil war or a revolution, and even then you have no right to expect you’ll survive it.
Chaos is a very high energy state, and it costs a lot to be in it. As a result systems (or learners) that are in a state of chaos won’t stay there for long. Typically they will respond to the first person that comes along and applies tight constraints (think about a paramedic arriving on the scene of an accident). From the perspective of the person in chaos, anything that helps stabilize the situation is welcome.
This can make chaos in systems VERY VERY vulnerable to unchecked power. In times of war, fear or conflict, it is very easy for people to choose and trust despotic leaders that bring tight constraints to the situation, because bringing constraints is actually the right move. I have seen meetings and gatherings happen where chaos was deliberately triggered (sometimes under the guise of “there’s not enough happening in this container”) and then people come in and hijack the agenda and apply their own power. In my experience, very few people are deeply skilled at initiating deep levels of chaos to break patterns and then creating complexity responses (rather than imposing their will), but on the national scale perhaps Iceland is an example.
In workshops sometimes participants want to question or check the power of the facilitators. This has happened twice to my colleague Tuesday Ryan-Hart and I when we have taught groups of activists who seized on her power teaching to question the power dynamics of teacher/student within the workshop. In both cases we took responsibility as hosts to hold a tight container in which the relationships could dissolve and so that the group itself could discover what to do next. We did this by suspending the agenda and hosting a circle and a Council. The decisions that came out were both group owned and I think made the workshop a better learning experience for everyone AND proved the efficacy of our tools and processes. I have seen other examples where the hosts did not take that responsibility and instead the participants were left designing their own gathering. That kind of thing is poor strategy in chaos, unless you are planning on just abandoning the situation and letting others take over, in which case it’s an excellent strategy to ensure you’ll never be invited back (I have also done this sometimes intentionally and sometimes accidentally.)
So that is the kind of decision that you have to make from time to time. Working with constraints is what leaders and teachers do. Being conscious about that is good practice.
At his two day class last week in Vancouver, Dave Snowden presented this constraints based take on Cynefin and shared the evolution of the framework. There is now a new version of this known as “liminal Cynefin” that explores the boundary conditions between complicated and complex and complex and chaotic. I like this because it begins to highlight how dynamic the framework is. I use Cynefin to explain systems and I use the Chaordic Path to talk about developing the leadership capacity to stay in the dynamism of flows around these types of systems.