A consultant and his framework are rarely parted

A consultant and his framework are rarely parted

23 June, 2023 3 min read
frameworks, consulting, communication, skepticism, management

Dave Snowden (of Cynefin fame) recently made the following post on LinkedIn:

“Then there are a whole group of people who use complexity as a synonym for uncertainty and then throw up their hands in dispair and say that it can’t be managed. A variation says everything human is complex and ends up with a almost religious opposition to the idea of management.” – Dave Snowden

Look, I know, I know… Who am I to question the Dave Snowden? But hear me out.

I am not so sure about the use of the word “religious” by Dave Snowden in that context. “Persistent” might be a better qualifier to the word “opposition”.

Certainly, every major religion is way more all-encompassing and insightful (despite also being way more complex) than any framework; this is why religions have persisted for millenia, while frameworks wax and wane every decade, give or take.

It’s rather the consultants and the framework-makers and peddlers whom I see stubbornly (not “religiously”, but merely out of a fragile ego or their pecuniary self-interest) sticking to the pretense of a global, comprehensive validity of their creations.

Imagine if I were to defend the pitiful 2x2 matrix I recently shared on when to use ChatGPT as some kind of deeply insightful tool! It’s incomplete by definition and by virtue of having 2 dimensions and 2 levels. It’s a ludicrous oversimplification that’s only meant to visualize two possible paths, one of which I deem less productive than the other. Nothing more, nothing less.

It looks cute. There’s that.

And “management” without specifying what it is you “manage” is also a vague expression.

Manage a situation? Fine, I’ll take it. A project? Also fine, if you mean the content, and not the team.

But “manage a person”? Nonsense; you don’t manage a person, you pretend to manage a person, a being with own wants and needs, proclivities and dislikes—and the ability to turn the tables on you.

“Manage change”? Also self-aggrandizing nonsense, exactly like “leading change”.

I believe we should strive to be

  1. precise in our words and
  2. skeptical of oversimplifications.

Frameworks are oversimplifications by definition. I mean, come on… Even Cynefin boils the world down into five domains. Five. And we then have the gall to criticize the pseudoscience that is the Meyer-Briggs Type Indicator test only allows for 16 “buckets” of behavioral preference, but don’t bat an eye at Cynefin’s five “buckets”.

Really? There are only 5 domains of decision-making modalities? And they are so neatly separable? Wow, the world seems less complex to me now!

It’s unlikely. But it looks nice. Structured. Intellectual. There’s that.

(Dave Snowden, of course, will tell you that he has added more domains, which kinda makes the whole ruse transparent, no?)

Then there’s the word “complexity”. Fancy. Big. Everyone can project whatever they want on it. ((( (( ( COMPLEXITY ) )) ))). Whoa. Bring Your Own Worry. Like the dreaded “VUCA”. (I cringe.)

Words like “management”, “leadership” or “complexity” are very imprecise, except when explained with clarity and specificity.

So maybe the people Mr. Snowden puts in that group don’t really “throw up their hands in despair”, but are annoyed by the ambiguity and lack of clarity they face day in and day out, bombarded with oversimplifications claiming to explain the world, and with imprecise language that makes clear thinking and genuine discourse impossible.