Categorising beyond Type 1 and Type 2 decisions that I wrote about in my last couple of blogs can help decision makers. And right now, decision makers across the world can do with all the help they can get given the recently declared pandemic.

The four Cs are Core, Complicated, Complex and Chaotic. The person behind this type of thinking is David Snowden and his Cynefin Framework shown below. The only difference is the category I call Core, he calls Obvious. As in decisions for which the answer should be obvious. In Snowden’s model he explains that Core decisions need rigid constraints, Complicated decisions need governing constraints, Complex decisions need enabling constraints and in a Chaotic environment, there are no constraints. Anything goes.

It is the border between Complex and Chaotic I want to explore given the current environment. I think we can safely say that decision making around how to respond to the pandemic has gone beyond complicated. But is it chaotic or just complex?

Snowden makes two suggestions that help us understand if decision makers are operating in chaos or complexity and what to do in response. First, he says if you are facing chaos then introduce some constraints. For example: closing borders to travel, introducing self-isolation. Second, he suggests that in a complex environment one of the ways we respond is through repurposing existing “assets”. For example, repurposing empty hotels as temporary hospitals for COVID-19 patients or for quarantine purposes as is now planned in the UK.

My take. The decision making environment for the authorities is bordering on the edge of complexity into chaos. However, the authorities are taking the right actions to introduce constraints and create ONLY a complex decision making environment.

And to end off with a final note of compassion for those in the hot seats of power right now. Take this from US President John F Kennedy:

"… the President bears the burden of the responsibility quite rightly. The advisers may move on to new advice." Washington Post December 18, 1962.

I wish the best for you and yours in these challenging times. Even more so, I wish the best for our authorities … that they make the best decisions under the toughest of circumstances.

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