Clockwise trimming

Cynefin Framework

I can’t now remember if it was a tweet, a blog post or a newspaper article that got me thinking about this but apologies if I am not recognising someone’s initial jumpstart.

One of the first problem solving tactics in TRIZ (the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving) is that of Trimming. Trimming is an intervention that is well suited to the ordered domains of the cynefin framework ie where cause and effect can be causally linked.

If you trim a complex adaptive system (which by definition “the whole is more than the sum of its parts”) and remove a part, how can you be certain of the implications on the outcome of the ‘whole’.

It is a very natural evolutionary trend for an organisation to concentrate on one product/service and exclude other ideas for change as a threat to the status quo. Then in order to compete, the organisation will trim and trim and trim any spare capacity to adapt.

I therefore wonder whether there is a natural tendency/trend from Chaos – Complex – Complicated – Simple, which of course is a full clockwise circle of the cynefin framework.

As the incremental trimming changes reduce the process steps, component parts, time to market, cost,  etc you can see why what is left drifts slowly towards the simple-chaotic boundary as there is little capacity left to adapt and little appetite for innovative change.

Having recently returned from a nostalgic rock and blues festival, it was fascinating to see how many bands that have managed to survive up to 40 years on the road, yet are still reliant on and playing major tracks from their first and second albums. Why is it that these early tracks endure but despite universal improvements in musicianship, technology and production. It is quite rare that any of the songs written after those first few albums have any staying power.

I suspect it is the clockwise innovation path through the cynefin domains mentioned above.

When a band first starts up all the members are just getting to know each other, eager to impress and the boundary constraints are few. Different styles of musical influences are blended [A recent documentary on Sky Arts 1 commended Bill Ward of Black Sabbath for his jazz influenced drumming]. Songs are co-written.

Then after many gigs and a couple of albums, egos become inflated, a style is developed, the band is categorised by the music press and there are worries about losing their audience. These constraints inhibit an acceptance of change and diversity.

Fights break out over royalties. Individuals strive to have sole rights to their songs. New members are recruited as jobbing musicians to fill gaps left by feuding members. Increasing drug use, alcohol abuse and tag-along partners inhibits the creative process.

Finally the band are in a simple state doing occasional greatest hits shows for their original and declining, now middle aged, fans with just the drummer as an original member.

This clockwise evolutionary pathway may be more common than we think.



  1. Really interesting Ron. More food for thought. The flip side of this is whether as complex and complicated systems engage with each other, some elements of complex systems wrongly get treated as complicated and also vice versa? So there may be opportunities to identify which parts of your system are which, and trim complicated systems which have become bloated as they are treated as complex, and keep energy and time for exploring the genuinely complex parts? Using the TRIZ approach of separating out things in conflict (solving physical contradictions).

  2. Hi Lilly,
    One of the biggest benefits of understanding the cynefin framework is the realisation that problems can so easily be caused by not realising which parts are in which domain.
    I may explore it further in another posting but my initial thoughts were that the ‘system’ must truly be explored in time and scale ie the TRIZ 9 Boxes. I suspect that a lot of the trimming in ‘complex systems’ especially social situations occurrs without consideration of the bigger picture. For example the environmental benefits of organic farming or the long term detrimental effect on a town centre when a Council gives planning permission for an out of town Tesco.
    Cheers, Ron

    • Oooh function analysis/9 box mash-up….exciting stuff. I don’t know if this is covered in cognitive edge but do people differ in their innate approach to problems? I have wondered if many engineers and other technical people tend to assume that things are complicated when they may well be complex – perhaps because of their training. The benefit of taking a more objective approach is that you will challenge your initial bias and see the best way of approaching things (rather than your innate approach).

      Please note my psychology bias in this post (focus on individual difference, cognitive style, assumption there is a way things “really are” etc) 🙂

      • Absolutely, its always been a fundamental part of the accreditation training. Called the butterfly stamped exercise [] it allows individuals or groups to self realise if they have an ordered or unordered bias to not just their perspective of problems but also of life/the world in general.

  3. Hey Ron, on clockwise and counter(anti)-clockwise movement on cynefin:

    “The forces of the past tend to cause clockwise drift in the Cynefin space: people living together and sharing mutual needs lead to the emergence of ideas; convenience leads to stabilization and ordering of the ideas; tradition solidifies the ideas into ritual; and sometimes, either lack of maintenance or the buildup of biases leads to breakdown. The forces of the future push dynamics to the counter-clockwise: the death of people and obsolescence of roles cause what is known to be forgotten and require seeking; new generations filled with curiosity begin new explorations that question the validity of established patterns; the energy of youth breaks the rules and brings radical shifts in power and perspective; and sometimes imposition of order is the result. In a sense, these two forces are always pulling society in both directions at once, and this is reflected in organizations as well. The old guard is forgotten at the same time that its beliefs affect newcomers in ways they cannot see.”

    Related I think? I would say both forces are in operation on the band dynamics you are thinking of, though with its aging audience perhaps more of the past influence creates the overall clockwise spin you see. Interesting stuff in any case …


    • Hi Cynthia
      Thanks for your comments and additional insights. I can imagine now the pulsing clockwise and then anticlockwise as the old is continuously replaced by the new. I guess for the ageing bands it isa case that the audience is an inseperable part of the bigger ‘ecosystem’ and therefore it is the entire ecosystem that moves clockwise inhibiting and damping the possibility of new band members experimenting with anything new.
      Cheers, Ron

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