Cynefin is a Welsh word with no direct equivalent in English. As a noun it is translated as habitat, as an adjective familiar, but dictionary definitions fail to do it justice. A better, and more poetic, definition comes from the introduction to a collection of paintings by Kyffin Williams, an artist whose use of oils creates a new awareness of the mountains of his native land and their relationship to the spirituality of its people: “It describes that relationship: the place of your birth and of your upbringing, the environment in which you live and to which you are naturally acclimatised.” (Sinclair 1998). It differs from the Japanese concept of Ba, which is a “shared space for emerging relationships” (Nonaka & Konno 1998) in that it links a community into its shared history – or histories – in a way that paradoxically both limits the perception of that community while enabling an instinctive and intuitive ability to adapt to conditions of profound uncertainty. In general, if a community is not physically, temporally and spiritually rooted, then it is alienated from its environment and will focus on survival rather than creativity and collaboration. In such conditions, knowledge hoarding will predominate and the community will close itself to the external world. If the alienation becomes extreme, the community may even turn in on itself, atomising into an incoherent babble of competing self interests.
An iron age round house
Salmon swimming upstream to spawn.