The Cynefin Agile Lean Mixup

I was pleasantly surprised to hear that several thinkers, practitioners, and researchers have teamed up to “further the application of complexity science in software development as well as in the larger organization”. The inaugural CALM Alpha event is scheduled to take place this week, in the UK.

However, I am wondering about the real purpose of the event, because the announcements by some of the five “faculty members” have been a bit confusing (for me at least)…

According to Dave Snowden and Karl Scotland the name CALM stands for “Cynefin, Agile, Lean Mashup”. But Simon Bennett says it stands for “Complexity, Agile, Lean Mashup”. Dave explained this inconsistency away by saying “you can replace Cynefin with Complexity if you want”.

But I disagree.

We cannot just replace carrots with vegetables, and we cannot replace Scrum with Agile. We also cannot simply replace the Cynefin framework with complexity science. (And anyone who tries to replace Dutchmen with humans would be causing serious problems.)

Complexity Thinkers

When you ask community members of complexity science “who are the most inspiring complexity thinkers for organizations?” you get many different names, such as Stacey, Goldstein, Hazy, Uhl-Bien, Lissack, and Boisot.

For my Complexity Thinking presentation I took inspiration from many sources, including Ackoff, Jackson, Lewin, Meadows, Seddon, Ashby, Maguire, and Snowden.

And in the Agile and Lean communities some people have familiarized themselves with the works of Eoyang, Argyris, Stacey, and of course Snowden. (I’ve even seen a reference or two to some novice called Appelo.)

Needless to say, there seem to be as many models and theories as there are systems thinkers and complexity thinkers.

I like that, because…

Complexity itself is anti-methodology.
It is against “one-size fits all.”

– Tom Petzinger, The Interaction of Complexity and Management

That’s why I struggle with the communication about the CALM event.

Is Complexity All About Cynefin, Really?

The announcement of the CALM Alpha event says, “The faculty will present our current understanding and experiences of the relationship between Agile and Lean practice, and Complexity.”

Yes, that would be great!


Why is it called a “faculty”?

And why are they going to “present” things?

It didn’t escape my attention that almost all faculty members have tight relationships with the Cynefin framework. Joseph Pelrine suggested a reading list of scientific papers, and almost all of them are about Cynefin-related stuff. And Karl Scotland wrote the event is about “how do we apply complexity science, and in particular the Cynefin framework, to Agile and Lean development.”

The Cynefin brand is being passed around as if it is a synonym for complexity science. It isn’t. Just like Scrum is not a synonym for Agile. And Kanban is not a synonym for Lean.

Note, I don’t claim there’s anything wrong with Cynefin. On the contrary! I also never complain about Scrum. I think it’s great. And Kanban too. But I do object when people tell me I should do Scrum (or Kanban) when I want to be Agile (or Lean). Likewise, I object when people tell me Cynefin is the default model when we want to apply complexity thinking.

Because if they do, either they don’t get it themselves, or I suspect they’re trying to sell me a tool. And I have a policy of only purchasing tools from likeable businesses with crazy logos.

So, Will It Be Cynefin or Complexity?

When Steve Denning and I organized the Stoos Gathering (together with others) we did not call it the “Radical Management Gathering” or the “Management 3.0 Gathering”. I can be stupid, but not that stupid. It would have made it very hard for us to convince other thinkers and practitioners with diverse opinions and management models to join us.

That’s why I am wondering about the real purpose of CALM Alpha.

If the five faculty members are really trying to create a community of complexity thinkers, I expect Cynefin to get as much (well-deserved) attention as the many other ideas, models and frameworks that complexity thinkers have come up with in the last few decades. I expect the works of Stacey, Goldstein, Argyris, and many others to be discussed. And I will try to join and give this community my warm support.

However, if the faculty is trying to create a community of Cynefin practitioners, then this is also great! It could be similar to the Scrum Gatherings, where people discuss the single model and its many applications. In that case I will not join. Just like I’ll never join the Scrum Alliance. Because, as an aspiring complexity thinker, I believe I shouldn’t commit to just one model. I like my options open.

Speaking of options, Chris Matts said

I hope it is a “pull” based event based on learning rather than a “push” based event where the faculty teach us what they think we need to know.

So, what will it be?

The Complexity Agile Lean Mashup? Or the Cynefin Agile Lean Mashup?

If the faculty doesn’t choose, I hope the CALM participants will.

Sorry I won’t be there. I’ll be in China, fluttering around like a magpie.

p.s. I trust people interpret this post for what I mean it to be: constructive feedback to clarify the purpose and communication of what might be a very interesting new community.

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