Sunday, June 29, 2008

Frameworks for Decision Making in Different Contexts

A Leader's Framework for Decision Making.
By: Snowden, David J., Boone, Mary E.,
Harvard Business Review,
Nov 2007, Vol. 85, Issue 11

The framework presented in this paper sorts the issues facing leaders into five contexts defined by the nature of the relationship between cause and effect. Four of these - simple, complicated, complex, and chaotic - require leaders to diagnose situations and to act in contextually appropriate ways. The fifth - disorder - applies when it is unclear which of the other four contexts is predominant.

Simple Contexts: The Domain of Best Practice
Simple contexts, properly assessed, require straightforward management and monitoring. Here, leaders sense, categorize, and respond.

Complicated Contexts: The Domain of Experts
In a complicated context, leaders must sense, analyze, and respond. This approach is not easy and often requires expertise: A motorist may know that something is wrong with his car because the engine is knocking, but he has to take it to a mechanic to diagnose the problem.

Complex Contexts: The Domain of Emergence
Leaders need to probe first, then sense, and then respond.

Chaotic Contexts: The Domain of Rapid Response
In the chaotic domain, a leader's immediate job is not to discover patterns but to stanch the bleeding. A leader must first act to establish order, then sense where stability is present and from where it is absent, and then respond by working to transform the situation from chaos to complexity, where the identification of emerging patterns can both help prevent future crises and discern new opportunities. Communication of the most direct top-down or broadcast kind is imperative; there's simply no time to ask for input.

David J. Snowden ( is the founder and chief scientific officer of Cognitive Edge, an international research network. He is based primarily in Lockeridge, England. Mary E. Boone ( is the president of Boone Associates, a consulting firm in Essex, Connecticut, and the author of numerous books and articles, including Managing Interactively (McGraw-Hill, 2001).

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