Are we getting our people development principles right? Exploring the next GENERATION of skills programmes

Starting with the end in mind

When we develop teams and individuals we need to recognise the environments they need to work in.

Defining the environments we work in

Cynefin Model- Professor Dave Snowden

Obvious or Simple Systems

Environments where success is based on getting the process right, minimum and mainly predictable variables

Complicated systems

Environments where the success of the process depends on the knowledge of the individual, more variables involved but still predictable

Complex Systems

Environments where there are multiple variables influencing the process and these are constantly changing. This is where we need practitioners to be intuitive and receptive to the cues of the environment (i.e. skilful) to maximise success. Teachers, sales teams, police, military, health practitioners, etc.

Chaotic Systems

Environments where people or units operate independently of each other or when the variables that influence success are extreme or random

Who do we need to operate in these systems?Chefs or Cooks?


Chefs have the ability to create new recipes and great dishes because they understand the principles of how ingredients react. They have the ability to respond and adapt to what they have and the changing environments they work in.

Adaptive Expertise


Cooks have the ability to follow the recipe to create great dishes.

Procedural Expertise

The misconceptions of managing systems

The key issue is that our brains want to create order and predictability, it's why we have become so 'successful' as a species. Consequently managers look to control and measure their systems, which is fine for simple and complicated systems but for complex and chaotic systems it creates stagnation and dependency. This is why the emerging management systems are now exploring the power of ownership, empowerment, devolved decision-making and holacracy.

If we want to operate in complex systems we need to create chefs not cooks

When you look at the majority of development programmes they focus on competencies and are underpinned by the theories that predominatly develop knowledge, ideal for practitioners operating in simple and complicated system. Most of our education systems have been based on these principles. But if we want create real adaptive expertise such as sport teaching, policing, sales teams, leaders, doctors, etc. then there is a need to develop knowledge and skills applied in real situations.

Skills- the ability to adapt to a siutation to get the best out of our abilities and resources.

The military , sport and aviation have become experts in this area creating simulated and safe environments designed to replicate real scenarios and using real attentional cues. They create rich and complex environments in which instinctive and logical skills can quickly develop and where real time feedback is aligned to actions. It is based on rules of thumb (not rules) and principles not just knowledge of procedures. It supports learners to see and sense the right things and accelerates their reasoning with real emotions and situations not abstract, clinical case studies in a classroom. These principles have been evolved by practitioner/researchers such as Gary Kleine and are often grouped under the term Naturalistic Decision Making. Learning environments using these principles looks very different with worked based learning, feedback (video analysis), use of actors to recreate real, relevant, scenarios, 1 to 1 coaching while people are practicing their skills. Very much like an athlete and their sports coach.

This is where modern people development has to go if we want to see real skills in the work place!

Naturalistic coaching for performance

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