The Cynefin model brought wonderful complications to the ideal notion that "seeking best practices is always best". Dave Snowden and his team revealed how every situation is not the same and how there are different practices to choose from depending on the situation. This curtailed the relentless pursuit of best practices and allowed for elaborate analyses only when situations were neither simple, chaotic or complex. This also set up the emergence of effective practices from informal gatherings, spontaneous conversations and communities of tacit knowledge.
By combining the Cynefin and TIMN models together, I'm exploring a different set of questions about practice. I've been wondering about the following four questions:
- What tribal practice(s) handle unknowable, chaotic situations better than institutional, market or network practices could?
- What institutional practice(s) handle known, simple situations better than tribal, market or network practices could?
- What market practice(s) handle knowable, complicated situations better than tribal, institutional or network practices could?
- What network practice(s) handle unknown, complex situations better than tribal, institutional or market practices could?
Yesterday, I took a brief afternoon nap with these questions on my mind. I woke up with a tidy set of answers to all these questions. Here's how these four questions tie together by making different distinctions:
- Tribal practice draws a line between "insiders vs. outsiders" of the tribe to stick to their own kind and stick together to achieve safety in numbers. Tribal practice copes with the anxiety production stirred up by the chronic chaos whenever they apply this distinction to a few of their insiders. Those insiders who get stigmatized as "outsiders on the inside" feel blamed for internal problems, demonized as evil, branded as traitors, outcast as saboteurs or misunderstood as selfish. This reinforces the cohesion, cooperation and conviction about being right among the untarnished insiders of the tribe.
- Institutional practice make a distinction between "upper vs. lower" employees in the hierarchy to maintain order, control, stability and power over others. Institutional practice copes with anxiety produced from the insubordination, disrespect, and disorder of the majority who are kept in their lower place by provoking their tribal practice of "insider vs. outsider" distinctions. The formation of tribal silos, turf battles, empire builders, rumor mills, backstabbing and other varieties of office politics creates "insider" experiences for the "low lifes" to feel better. Their tribal practice also reinforces the feelings of superiority, dominance, and entitlement among the upper echelons.
- Market practice set up a battle between "responsive vs. arrogant" players to better serve customers, seize opportunities for new business, and to create more valuable offerings than their rivals. Market practice copes with the anxiety produced from aggressive rivals in their market space by provoking those rivals to indulge in institutional practice. The resulting industry consolidation, household brand names, and businesses too big to fail helps those seen as unresponsive by their market feel better about themselves. This also reinforces the feeling of being more responsive, adept at changing with the times and poised to introduce disruptive innovations than those arrogant institutions blinded by their own success.
- Network practice recognizes a difference between "living vs. automated" systems to realize synergies among the diverse nodes, to allow for exponential expansion of connections and to entice staggering amounts of user contributions. Network practice copes with the anxiety produced from so much self organizing complexity by invoking those who are not sufficiently paradoxical, transparent, self referential and complex to indulge in market practice. The resulting competition for the most links, friends, visits, votes, or Google Juice helps those on autopilot feel better about themselves. This also reinforces the feeling of being more alive, spontaneous and fluid than those complicated the robots chasing after notoriety in the network.
In short: those that cannot hack it as insiders amidst tribal practice get left behind as outsiders. Those that cannot fit in as upper members of institutional practice get to practice as insiders of tribal practice. Those that cannot impress their market with exceptional responsiveness get to practice as upper members of institutional practice. Those that cannot engage their network as lively contributors get to automatically practice as responsive to market recognition.