Do you have a ‘type’?  Problem Types and Leadership Styles

BEI Global > blog > Do you have a ‘type’?  Problem Types and Leadership Styles

The Cynefin Problem Model

Classifying problems – do you know what kind of problem you have?  And what leadership style to use?

OK folks, this blog has a lot of detail, and is a bit dense.  Hopefully you will agree that the Cynefin model is interesting and helpful.  Here we go….

What type of problem do you often run into?  Understanding what type of problem you have helps you understand the skills, process and risk associated with trying to solve the problem.  The Cynefin model organizes all problems into 5 categories.  These categories help you clarify the approach to the solution, and in many cases, the type of person or organization required to solve it.

Categories of the Cynefin Model

First – the categories:  This framework refers to the categories as “domains”.

  • Complex domain – characterized by an emerging practice
  • Complicated domain – characterized good practices
  • Chaotic domain – characterized by novel practices
  • Simple domain – characterized by best practices
  • Disorder domain – characterized by a mix of problem types

Process to Solve the Problem

Each of these domains requires the person in charge – the ‘problem solver’ to act in different ways.  There are different types of problem solvers.  What is your type?

  • Complex domain – probe, sense, respond
  • Complicated domain – Sense, analyze, respond
  • Chaotic domain – Act, sense, respond
  • Simple domain – Sense, categorize, respond
  • Disorder domain – Analyze the problem, and move quickly to one of the other types.  Note: usually this means breaking the problem down into component problems that can be classified and solved individually.


So, what are some examples of problems that fall into these categories?

  • Complex domain – These problems are areas where we do not understand everything that is going on.  For example – what is the impact of a chemical on an ecosystem.  There is not a clearly understood ‘right answer’.  These are areas where novel research is begin done by Ph.D’s who have only part of the picture.
  • Complicated domain – characterized good practices.  Generally – there are multiple right answers.  Experts help determine which ‘right answer’ is the best fit.  For example – what is causing the knocking sound in my car?
  • Chaotic domain – In this domain – the situation is chaotic – so the leader has to act first.  For example – a paramedic must stop the bleeding, not look for patterns or causes.
  • Simple domain – Clear cause and effect. Best practices are generally understood by all.  For example: what is the best way to process an order?
  • Disorder domain – break the problem down into its parts, and act accordingly

Wrap up

Whew – that is a lot of dense language and classification.  Who cares?  Why should you care about this?  Well, it helps to understand the type of problem to know what type of leadership style will best resolve the problem.  If you have a Chaotic problem – for example a heart attack – do you want someone to give you chest compressions or do some research to understand the cause?  If you have a simple problem – what is the most efficient way to organize a fast casual restaurant – do you want someone to research it, or provide the tried and true method?

Final Thoughts

The next time you have a meaty problem to solve, ask yourself if the right kind of leader is present. Will you be more efficient and effective if you use this model?  What type of problem is your leadership style best suited to resolve?  Are you the right person to solve this problem?  What “types” of leaders and problem solvers are available in your company?


I welcome your feedback and thoughts.  Feel free to contact me via

Did you like this blog?  Have you ever heard of this problem model?  Do you think it will be useful to you in the future?