Aporia Insights

These crowd-sourced thoughts and insights are from Aporia discussions I’ve run at a few events.

Meetup hosted by Digital Leadership – 2020-07-30

Man in Blue Denim Jacket Holding a Printing Paper

During this Digital Leadership meetup, a participant shared a situation where their organisation chose to complete a project which would mean a large investment to replace their office printers. This is despite the organisation not knowing whether, due to COVID, when and how many of their colleagues could return to the office.

We considered the decision to be one suffering from the sunk-cost fallacy. Since the project is nearing its end, and it has taken a lot of effort, they chose to complete the project despite it potentially resulting in insufficient value.

It would have been wiser if the decision-makers better acknowledged that there is incomplete information. They should have remained in Aporia and deferred the decision until they had learnt if, and to what degree, colleagues would be returning to the office.

Meetup hosted by Roy Marriott – 2020-06-22

Watch the recording and check out the slides.

Many thanks to everyone for coming to and contributing to the discussion hosted by Roy Marriott. Here are some notable insights that arose from the discussion.

Aporia, with Confused, has replaced Disorder as the name of Cynefin’s fifth domain
  • Aporia can provide teams with the chance to push against a leader’s decision to act. If the team believe the situation or context has changed, aporia can offer a place to oppose a leader’s decision. With hope, it provides an opportunity for respectful dissent.
  • It was suggested that the confused state is one where an individual doesn’t know they are confused; they mistakenly believe they have the right answer. Whereas aporia is when an individual knows they don’t know the right way forward; the individual is aware they are confused or are in a paradox.
  • Aporia is when one is not tense. Whereas in Confused is when one might say “what do you mean it’s not working?!”. Aporia is when we might say “ooohhh, what’s going on….? I don’t understand”.
  • Granularity needs to be considered. We might be holding one big decision in aporia, when in fact we should be breaking it down into several smaller granular decisions. These granular decisions could then be dealt with in other domains.
  • Can you positively stay in the state of not making a decision? Aporia can tell you when that’s okay; it legitimises it. It distinguishes it from mere analysis paralysis.
  • It is also true that deciding not to decide is also a decision.
  • “How wonderful that we have met with a paradox. Now we have some hope of making progress.” – Niels Bohr

Agile Xpertise meetup – 2020-05-20

  • A useful metaphor for understanding aporia is to consider stacking a dishwasher. At the start of the day, when the dishwasher is empty, you won’t know what will need to be washed, so you’re in aporia. But aporia is different from having no idea, or doing nothing, or any of your choices being of equal value. Therefore when stacking the breakfast items, you’d be wise to space them in a way which keeps as many options open as possible, without having to re-stack later in the day. So being in aporia doesn’t mean to remain passive.
  • An approach to utilising aporia in relation to the other domains is to throw into the framework all issues, then work out where best to place each issue. You are likely to find that although many issues may start in aporia, the majority of them will have a home in other domains. This method is called Four Table Contextualisation
  • Aporia has relevance to how we naturally learn
  • In the early days of the COVID outbreak, many governments operated in the Chaotic domain; they chose to act first knowing that there’ll be collateral damage. For example, loosening the criteria for financial support would provide immediate stability for many people and businesses, and yet such a policy would also be open to greater inappropriate use and fraud.  
  • The handling of COVID occurs in many domains at the same time. Investigating the biology of the virus may be manageable in the Complex domain. At the same time in the early days of the outbreak, many nations did not know sufficiently its epidemiology, so they responded in the Chaotic domain by enforcing lockdown in an attempt to halt its distribution. The consequential slowing of infection gave many governments the leeway to operate in aporia.

Piano Berlin meetup – 2020-05-19

  • Aporia is the biggest opportunity for change
  • To ‘escape’ aporia, we need to know what information is needed before moving into a different domain
  • People and organisations need resilience (e.g. financial reserves, optionality, inventory) to stay in aporia for a long time, and not be tempted to make a decision earlier than necessary
  • Regarding COVID, since some Asian countries previously dealt with SARS, their populations know that a COVID vaccine cannot be discovered quickly. So, compared to some western countries, these Asian countries are wise to keep their populations in aporia by not speculating when a vaccine may be ready
  • It’s often said politicians can either be right, wrong or uncertain; to be uncertain is the weakest position. However to be uncertain, and not make a choice, can be a legitimate stance (i.e. remain in aporia)

Aporia discussion workshop

What is Aporia

Aporia, with Confused, has replaced Disorder as the name of Cynefin’s fifth domain

Cynefin’s Disorder domain has changed to include Aporia – a state of puzzlement and doubt. It’s a timely adjustment to the sense-making framework.

Aporia is a state of mind which allows us to, as Chris Corrigan states, “[confront] paradoxes and situations that have no resolution, no precedent and no right way forward.”

Zhen Goh (Goh Shuzhen) says, “Aporia provides a safe and curious vantage point for leaders.”

About this discussion workshop

Through discussion, we’ll develop our understanding of Aporia, and explore how Aporia may help individuals and organisations. We’ll explore how Aporia may help the global effort to understand and respond to a rapidly changing world. Regardless of seniority, experience or sector, this discussion workshop would be of value to leaders navigating their team or organisation through an uncertain future.

Previous aporia discussion events

Here are insights from previous aporia discussion events.

Here are the slides from a previous event

Workshop Dates

Contact me (dean@latchana.co.uk) if you’d like this workshop run at your event.

Benefiting from puzzlement and doubt

Cynefin’s Disorder domain has changed to include Aporia – a state of puzzlement and doubt. It’s a timely adjustment to the sense-making framework.

Aporia is a state which allows us to, as Chris Corrigan states, “[confront] paradoxes and situations that have no resolution, no precedent and no right way forward.”

Zhen Goh says in Aporetic Meditations, “Aporia provides a safe and curious vantage point for leaders.”

I’m realising the significance of this domain since it describes an honest state we should embrace more often.

If we can show honesty, we can invite others to collectively deceiver where we are, and what could be done. It avoids our tendency to jump to conclusions and prematurely make commitments.

The difference between Aporia and Chaos

To be in aporia is to acknowledge we don’t understand the nature of the situation. This differs from being in chaos since when we’re in the latter we know we must act immediately to stabilise the situation. We can operate in both at the same time.

For example, a few weeks ago, many took action to hoard toilet roll. At the same time, they didn’t know the emerging nature of the lockdown. So for other decisions, they would have been wise to linger in aporia until things further unfolded. So, for example, they may have delayed the decision to get a refund on their season ticket.

Join the Aporia discussion

Join the Aporia discussion on LinkedIn

Closing the Entrepreneurial Gap


When organisations are often too ponderous to innovate, what proven approaches exist to bridge the internal gap between the opposing needs of entrepreneurialism and operationalism?

This talk will explore emerging approaches that utilise the internal tensions between innovators and conservative communities. We’ll explore the importance of designing for team structures and communication pathways that are driven by cognitive load, social capital and end-to-end value creation.

These approaches create the conditions that will support risk-taking, enable greater agility and increase market competitiveness.

The Closing the Entrepreneurial Gap talk will describe how leaders should create space where entrepreneurs can be protected from the operators who may impose conditions and procedures poorly designed for the innovation.


  • The rate of organisational adaptability must be greater than the market’s
  • The barriers to innovation, such as operational culture, stifles the emergence of entrepreneurialism
  • The myths and mistakes organisations make when attempting to create innovation and alignment
  • Utilising the natural tension between traditionalists and entrepreneurs to create lasting innovation
  • Creating end-to-end value using team topologies which considers cognitive load and clear collaboration lines
  • Research and personal stories of how organisations have overcome scepticism and have achieved innovation and greater business agility

Talk format

Duration: Ideally 60 minutes.

It can be delivered remotely or in-person.

Workshop Dates


RUDE – Estimate more than team effort

RUDE is a handy mnemonic for estimating the work needed to deliver its intended outcome(s).

It stands for Risks, Uncertainties, Dependencies, Effort.

It reminds teams that when estimating work, they need to consider more than the effort needed to deliver the work.

Risks Consider the likelihood and impact of known aspects that, if they come true, will threaten the work or its outcome(s). Such aspects can be managed.
Uncertainties What unknowns could there be?
How unfamiliar is this work?
Amongst stakeholders, how acceptable is the work and its outcome(s)?
Early in the project, such factors are likely to be unpredictable.
Dependencies Who, and what, is the team dependent upon to deliver the outcome(s). The greater the dependencies the greater the complexity.
Effort Estimated time and energy needed by the team to deliver the outcome(s).

This is separate from the effort of other parties who are needed to deliver the outcome(s), but should include the team’s effort to liaise with those parties.

Sizing work items

Teams may want to use Fibonacci estimation to size work items relative to each other.

Note that two work items may be of the same size for different reasons.

For example, a work item may need little team effort but have high dependencies, whereas another work item – of the same size – may need lots of team effort but have no dependencies beyond the team.

Example – Project to build a house extension

The Goal

Your family would like a house extension built. Consider the family as the project team.


There could be known aspects which threaten the extension. For example, it may be known that it needs to be built on land prone to subsidence.


This might be the first time the family is having a house extension built. So, for them, there are many unknowns.

The extension’s design will be subject to the agreement of local authorities, building regulations and your neighbours’ consent. Consider these parties as stakeholders.

Regarding the work itself, you may need to gain permission to access your neighbour’s land.

At the start of the project, stakeholders’ responses are likely to be unpredictable.


What specialists are needed to build a house extension? Has your team and the various specialists worked together before?


How much time and energy do you and your family estimate will be needed to manage the house extension project?

Related reading

Risk vs Uncertainty in Project Management