Most of the times I generate analogies by digging into my work and home practices. But sometimes it’s the analogies that find me, and it’s so much more fun!
Conceptual Frameworks are the best! Not only can you use them any way you see fit, they also help you memorize and apply strategies to tackle issues at hand. When you are in desperate need of an overall picture, or could use a mnemonic to order your mental chaos, a conceptual framework (although it doesn’t sound sexy) is your best bet to move forward. What is a Conceptual Framework you may wonder. Well, read on!
A Conceptual Framework is a tool. It attempts to achieve a fine balance between analysis and synopsis. It provides you with context, and at the same time tries to explain how things work in a brief and systematic manner, so you can (a) quickly see where you are currently positioned and (b) swiftly find your next best step forward. Often depicted as a matrix or a curve -but also found in the form of an analogy– the best of their kind capture an actual phenomenon, and repaint it into something easy to use. Depending on the depth and breadth of the given phenomenon, Conceptual Frameworks can apply to micro or macro scale. Still, still a tool for scientists.
Take Economists, for instance. That weird breed of white-collar people is obsessed with that Supply and Demand Curve, right? Everything they observe from where they stand seems to fit this simplistic graph depicting the relationship between the price of a certain commodity (the y-axis) and the quantity of that commodity that is demanded at that price (the x-axis). Well, that (bloody) curve is their very own Conceptual Framework. They use it to understand where any given market stands, they use it to see how economic actions influence that market, they use it to predict how markets could react to potential extravagant phenomena. Is it accurate? No. Does it help them grasp a basic understanding of the market and not start from ground zero? Yes!
Political Scientists get their mojo from the Principal Agent Problem, Public Administration gurus live and breathe the Politics-Administration Dichotomy, and power-thinkers like philosopher Isaiah Berlin use metaphors like the one with “The Hedgehog and the Fox” to make conceptual distinctions in how important philosophers and authors (people like Aristotle, Plato, Goethe or Dante) attempt to shape the world. They’re practically all over the place! Conceptual Frameworks seem to outlive their creators too! Come to think of it, how come we don’t have one for Parenting as well? After all, it sure looks like one hell of a multi-disciplinary field!
Perhaps there is no such thing as a Conceptual Framework for Parenting because we don’t need one, Momma! After all, raising kids is a piece of cake, right? All is simple, and everything is ordered. All situations are identical too, so we all know what to do and how to cope, and we are nailing it. Right? Well, not for me, no. And I’m not alone in this: the more I discuss this with Parents from all over the globe, the more I get convinced that there is a fine line between order and chaos when it comes to Parenting.
The moment you start to think that all is simple and everything is in order, past successes only serve to make you vulnerable to future failure. Before you know it, the chaotic domain grabs you by the throat and drags you into a crisis. The minute you find yourself not knowing where you are, this feeling of helplessness actually welcomes you in the territory of disorder. But not all who wonder are lost, and there’s still hope for you to get out of it: gather as much information as possible about the current state, identify the challenges, and move on.
Do all these resonate, Momma? I bet you are wondering which mischievous munchkin’s deeds have inspired such a testimonial. Which exhausted parent has taken those heartfelt notes trying to pass down some experiential wisdom to future generations. How would you react if I told you that these strongly emotional words were written by a guy named Edwin Stoop who made a drawing of some Conceptual Framework used in decision-making called Cynefin? Well, here’s his drawing if you find this hard to believe!
Don’t feel weird if it’s the first time you come across Cynefin (actually pronounced Knevin because, you know, Welsh!) I had not heard it myself up until a couple of weeks back, when I sat one of Mike Burrows‘ powerful Advanced Agendashift workshops on Coaching and Leading Continuous Transformation. Mike was explaining how Cynefin is used by corporations to facilitate strategic decision making, and I couldn’t let go of the idea that what this Conceptual Framework is doing is also paraphrasing, summarizing and rationalizing… the first 40 days with a new baby at home. Or introducing solids. Or taking off the diaper. Or any big milestone related to Parenting where you are asked to address or manage Change!
I hereinafter argue (while heavily plagiarizing its Wikipedia article) that Cynefin (created back in 1999 by Dave Snowden when he worked for IBM Global Services) is the modern Parent’s go-to Conceptual Framework to help manage the wonders of Parenthood:
- The simple/obvious domain represents the “known knowns”. This means that there are rules in place, the situation is stable, and the relationship between cause and effect is clear: if you do X, expect Y. Like when I’m serving my son his afternoon yoghurt while grandpa is visiting. I know for a fact that he will not be having any yoghurt because he is too excited to go and play with grandpa! Based on the Framework, complacency is your enemy. Make sure to break any cycle of habit that doesn’t meet your goals! Sorry grandad but, from now on, you get to visit at 18:00 rather than 17:30!
- The complicated domain consists of the “known unknowns”. The relationship between cause and effect requires analysis or expertise; there are a range of right answers. The framework recommends “sense–analyze–respond”: assess the facts, analyze, and apply the appropriate good operating practice. Kinda like sleep training when you need to schedule naps based on your baby’s awake time. It’s not an impossible task, but you do need considerable planning ahead, a good timer and consistent patience!
- The complex domain represents the “unknown unknowns”. Cause and effect can only be deduced in retrospect, and there are no right answers. Battlefields, markets, ecosystems and corporate cultures are often viewed as complex systems, but that’s just how the “terrible twos” work as well! Yes, it is a normal stage in a child’s development, but most toddlers will go through it in varying degrees. At one moment, your child may cling to you desperately and, in the next, run away from you in a screaming rage. Take-it-apart-and-see-how-it-works is the best approach, because your very actions change the situation in unpredictable ways!
- In the chaotic domain, cause and effect are unclear. Events in this domain are “too confusing to wait for a knowledge-based response”, writes Patrick Lambe. “Action—any action—is the first and only way to respond appropriately.” In my case, the most chaotic experience of them all was Breastfeeding. I didn’t know why, I couldn’t tell how but, for a couple of weeks, putting baby to breastfeed seemed to be the only sustainable way out of my baby’s incessant protesting. I kept doing it, without knowing why. I kept hoping it would get less chaotic and more complex as time went by. And it did.
- And let’s not forget that dark disorder domain in the centre. It represents situations where there is no clarity about which of the other domains apply. It’s like the first week with a newborn at home. You have neither the mental nor the emotional clarity to see through it all, the smallest baby actions could be a source of panic to you, and your best bet is to break down the situation into constituent parts (feeding, sleeping, cleaning) and try to assign each to one of the other four realms, where (say) feeding may be complicated, sleeping could prove complex and cleaning is pretty straight-forward!
So, yeah: Cynefin all the way, Momma! And mind you: as knowledge increases, there is a “clockwise drift” from chaotic through complex and complicated to simple. Although you may not know beforehand how complex, complicated, obvious, chaotic or dark things can get when you are focusing on properly raising your child, but the ways out of any given situation, however tough it may be, are already thought-of. So why not take advantage of this body of knowledge and use the Cynefin Framework to create your own shortcuts and ways around the hardships of Parenting? To be honest, I’m pretty sure you are a lot like me in this: already practicing many of these tactics already, without knowing it actually had a name that people were using!
As for you my dear Recruiter or Hiring Manager, still wondering how Mothers manage to thrive when assigned to Leadership and Strategy positions? Here’s a hint: it’s all about proper decision making after carefully assessing any given situation. And they’ve had so much practice at home, that the respective work environment seems pretty straight forward to begin with!
Hooked with the Mom Framework? You got this!