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.

Do the right thing or do the thing right

Does your team tend to do the right thing, or do the thing right?

Doing the right thing means that despite any mandated procedure, sanctioned tools or external expectations, the team can choose their own approach to achieve its purpose.

Doing the thing right means that the team adheres to the mandated procedures, use the sanctioned tools and meet external expectations, even if it means it impedes them from fulfilling their purpose.

This article offers a technique that’ll enable teams to examine and potentially improve their balance of doing the right thing and doing the thing right. But first an example…


Suppose a team of housing officers aren’t obligated into following ill-fitting procedures, tools, and expectations. They’ll have the freedom to find the right approach to meet their purpose to support their tenants. They will be doing the right thing. They will be discovering and evolving the right procedures, tools, and expectations to support their tenants.

If they are bound by, or hide behind the use of procedures, tools, and expectations, which aren’t fit for purpose, they will be hindered from fulfilling their purpose of supporting their tenants. They’ll be doing the thing right.

Impact of doing the thing right

Many teams feel compelled to do the thing right at the cost of doing the right thing. Lack of freedom to safely challenge, and potentially disregard, mandated ways of working can result in many suffering in silence. It often leads to poor morale, disillusionment, unmet team objectives, and delay.

In fact, the desire to be seen to do the right thing, even if the practice isn’t mandatory, can lead to unnecessary adherence.

At times the detrimental impact can lead to catastrophe, resulting in public outcry, scandal and suffering. One tragic example is the Liverpool Care Pathway scandal, where many patients in palliative care were reported in the media to have unnecessarily suffered as a result of poorly implemented guidance.

It’s reported that many patients were being assessed as terminally ill, sedated and denied water often resulting in many who might have survived longer otherwise dying prematurely.

A less harrowing, yet universal occurrence in many organisations is the expectation that teams adhere to poor-fitting frameworks and procedures. Often these are deemed by outsiders as necessary. However, these mandates were never, or are no longer, fit-for-purpose. For example an overly bureaucratic governance process, an inappropriate compliance regime mandated by distant policymakers, or an inflexible and protracted product delivery lifecycle.

Overcoming doing the thing right

How can teams overcome the pressure to do the thing right so they can focus on fulfilling their purpose? How can they recognise and challenge ill-fitting procedures, tools, and expectations?

I have a technique that will help teams map and strategise their way towards doing more of the right thing. The technique works by incrementally expanding the boundary of existing local freedoms into the area of external expectations and mandated processes.

The technique recognises that mandates may have originated from a worthy – yet possibly misconceived – desire to manage for consistency, efficiency, and alignment across the organisation.

It also recognises that since organisations need to adapt to change and uncertainty, to be effective, teams need the flexibility to safely experiment with emergent and nonconformist ways of working, which still align with the wider organisational vision.

The technique

This facilitated technique involves the team identifying the interactions, processes and tools they are involved with.

Start with identifying between six and 12 items which are routine team practices. Here are some examples:

1Working with customer representativeInteraction
2Implementing the needs of an influential Senior Manager from a different business unitInteraction
3Regular customer visitsInteraction
4New governance process mandated by new parent companyProcess
5Manual document control process with no centralisation or version controlTool
6Web-based collaborative documentation tools. Tool introduced by the new parent companyTool
7Implementing unquestioned requirements based on a untested solutionTool

Approximately place each item onto a plot showing the value the item contributes to the team’s purpose versus the degree of control the team has to do the item.

The team could do this with post-it notes so they can be easily discussed, changed and moved around.

Example of item mapping showing the degree to which each item helps to fulfil the team’s purpose against the degree to which the team has a choice over adhering to the item

Finally, referring to the illustration below, categorise and discuss the items as follows.

Item MappingTeam considerations
Low value & team’s choiceDiscuss whether the item should be stopped. This item provides little value and the team has freedom to discontinue it.
High value & team’s choiceThis item should be continued, monitored and refined.
High value & no team choiceAlthough the item is mandated, it still provides value to the team. It should be continued and potentially refined with those mandating the item.
Low value & no team choiceSince it’s mandated, the team will need to continue this item. However, where possible, they should discuss with those mandating the item that it provides little value to the team’s purpose. Both parties should explore how adjustments or alternatives could address their shared needs and concerns.
Categories of suggested team discussions.

Next steps

The team should recognise this is a dynamic landscape, over which they have some agency. Therefore this technique should be done periodically, and with discipline. It will help the team continuously expand and improve upon the procedures, tools and expectations needed to fulfil their purpose.

Final thought

This technique should help the team gain a better awareness of the procedures, tools and expectations they have control over, and which they don’t. It will help move from frustration & dejection to engagement & continuous improvement.

Contact me (dean@latchana.co.uk) if you would like help introducing this technique within your organisation.

Workshop: Wardley Mapping

This workshop introduces Wardley Mapping as a technique to understand the chain of components an organisation needs to serve user needs. It creates situational awareness by mapping the maturity of each component, and the visibility of the component to the user. It allowing organisations to better strategise and improve their effectiveness and competitiveness.

The workshop can be delivered in 60 to 120 minutes. It’s team-based and can be run for any number of teams.


photos from workshops

Thank you

Thank you to Philippe Guenet for working with me in developing the workshop.

Wardley Mapping is conceived by and is kindly shared by Simon Wardley.

Envisioning workshop: Co-create shared Vision and Strategies

The envisioning workshop is a group facilitation activity which:

  • Co-creates a shared business vision to unite behind
  • Identifies and prioritises strategies which are faithful to the vision
  • Generates the momentum to test and execute the strategic objectives

It helps ensure the co-created vision, strategic alignment and execution are in keeping with the elements described in Starting an Engagement.

Setup and Agenda

Participants should be the leadership team, stakeholders and key representatives from the execution team (aka delivery team). Ideally, there should be between five and nine participants, plus the workshop facilitator(s).

Duration: Typically 3-4 hours


  1. Co-creation of the vision statement
  2. Identify measures of success
  3. Brainstorm strategies which will help deliver the vision
  4. Prioritise strategies
  5. Setup cadence and move into execution

Co-creation of the vision statement

To gain alignment it’s important that all participants co-create the vision. The vision describes an ambitious and motivational future-state for the business. This vision is written as a vision statement, which has the following qualities:

  • Succinct – one or two sentences
  • Visionary – Drives motivation to create a beneficial future-state
  • Works on the team’s behalf – Help to communicate and gain alignment across the business
  • Aligns the team with their stakeholders
  • Easy for everyone in the business to understand
  • Scoped – removes any erroneous activities such as pet projects

To move with velocity to drive profitable growth and become an even better McDonald’s serving more customers delicious food each day around the world.

McDonald’s Vision Statement

We’ll save money by eliminating impediments to deliver a frictionless customer experience, which empowers our front-of-house colleagues.

A Vision Statement created by a team in a FTSE 100 company

Identify measures of success

Brainstorm and agree on three or four measures of success. These ensure the right benefits, behavioural changes and consequences will be achieved which will support the vision.

Some examples of measures of success:

  • Reduce the cost to serve
  • Increase customer retention
  • Increase customer satisfaction
  • Increase incremental sales
  • Reduce carbon emissions across the vehicle fleet

Measures of success should be found within the vision statement. The following measures of success are implied in the McDonald’s vision statement:

  • Profit growth
  • Customer growth
  • Customer satisfaction
  • Global scope

Brainstorm strategies which will help deliver the vision

Now facilitate the participants to brainstorm a number of strategies which will meet some or all of the measures of success, which they believe will help to fulfil the vision.

If the vision is transformational, encourage the creation of strategies which will test long-held assumptions.

Participants can write their strategies individually or in pairs. Each strategy idea should be written on post-it notes. Once participants have written a few each, remove any which the participants agree are duplicates.

A strategy is something which gives consistency over time and contains the essence of how you’re going to be different

Gary Hamel’s definition of strategy

Prioritise strategies

These strategies should now be ordered relative to each other. They should be ordered by their degree of perceived value towards achieving the vision, and by the perceived complexity of achieving the strategy.

There are a number of ways to understand and measure complexity. For example, consider Liz Keogh’s Estimating Complexity and my RUDE technique.

This stage of the workshop creates a spread of strategies where the following can be identified and discussed:

  1. High-value strategies which are likely to have little complexity to deliver
  2. High-value strategies which are complex to deliver
  3. Low-value strategies which have little complexity to deliver
  4. Low-value strategies which are complex to deliver

Participants should then reflect on the distribution of strategies, and be encouraged to debate, modify, reposition, and possibly remove strategies. This helps the participants create an ordered backlog of strategies.

Setup cadence and move into execution

Since each strategy has a degree of uncertainty, each strategy should be treated as a hypothesis to be proven or disproven through rapid experiments. Therefore, following the workshop, with close support of their leaders and stakeholders, execution teams should test and learn whether the strategies can be achieved.

These strategies should be tested through the innovations, products and services built by the execution teams. A Lean Startup approach should be employed utilising concepts such as the Minimum Viable Product. In partnership with the workshop participants, teams should be disciplined and ruthless in discontinuing ideas which don’t meet the strategic objectives.

A possible set of evaluation criteria can be the one described by the Ash Maurya:

  • Desirability: The innovation, product or service solves a problem for the beneficiaries of the product or service
  • Viability: The innovation, product or service fulfils its strategic objective
  • Feasible: The innovation, product or service can be built and sustained
Ash Maurya (leanstack.com)

Another set of criteria could be testing for problem-solution fit and product-market fit.

A final stage of the workshop is for the participants to agree on how to brief and support execution teams to address two or three strategies from the top of the strategy backlog.

The continuation of existing strategies, innovations, products and services should be judged against their alignment to the vision and its measures of success.

A pivot is a change in strategy without a change in vision

Eric Ries

A cadence structure should be agreed and set-up for the participants to regularly meet, review and adjust the strategic fit to the vision. This should be done in union with the execution teams.

To ensure on-going alignment and support for execution teams, execution teams should be encouraged to make use of visual management techniques which demonstrates how their current and future work is testing the agreed strategies. The Cone-shaped Backlog is one such visual management technique.

The cone-shaped backlog ensures alignment to the vision, strategies and measures of success

Starting an Engagement

In this article I’ll explain my current approach to starting an engagement or initiative with the leadership team.

This approach will ensure the initiative gets off and continues on the right footing. It’s been inspired by Collis’ and Rukstad’s approach to articulating a strategy.

Let’s start with establishing and agreeing the initiative’s intent, what outcomes it’s trying to achieve, and the rules of engagement. Created collectively during a kick-off workshop, each of the following should have a statement written in a few clear sentences; the balanced scorecard will need something a little more elaborate.


Why the initiative exists. What’s the underlying motivation of the initiative; what’s its contribution to the wider organisation and whom it’s ultimately serving.


Establish what the engagement team will believe in, and how it will behave. This team is a partnership of the key stakeholders/leaders and the consultants/coaches.

The values govern how the team behave (“doing the right thing”), not necessarily what the team should do (“the right thing to do”).


What we want the initiative to deliver. It could be an indeterminate future goal.


What’s our game plan. Identify a number of coherent approaches that the team have reasonable confidence in. From these create an ordered backlog.

Ensure they’re SMART objectives. Know that certain approaches may fail, so ensure a plurality of strategies, and a flexible mindset.

To ensure understanding and alignment, use tools such as Karl Scotland’s Backbriefing A3.

Balanced Scorecard

Monitor and judge which approaches are working against success criteria.

To help with visibility and alignment, ensure the statements and balanced scorecard are shared across the organisation and with the relevant suppliers & partners.

Throughout the engagement judge buy-in and motivation, especially their appetite for uncertainty and the need to potentially change some established expectations. Establish how much genuine leadership commitment exists, especially when it comes to making some tough trade-offs.

The kick-off should be the start of an ongoing review to see if the initiative is on track; to check whether to continue with the current set of approaches or pivot with another set.

Importantly, if despite best efforts, the initiative isn’t providing value, exercise the option to end it early. There’s no point spending time and money flogging a dead horse.

I’m available if you’d like someone experienced to facilitate this as part of an engagement’s kick-off and to periodically review progress.