“Out of clutter, find simplicity, from discard, find harmony, in the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”
Let’s talk Chaos.
I love them all. Go ahead. Pick one. It will not matter. I can guarantee any one of them will make people nervous. Why? Because chaos equals difficulty <as Albert suggests>.
So, chaos (or what may look like chaos but it’s not).
Ah. Where to start.
Me? I begin with why I am comfortable with the concept of some chaos in business. I figure, the bigger the possible mistake looks, the better chance I’ll have to do something really meaningful and, well, live. ‘Live’ meaning … getting the heart pumping type stuff. And chaos provides massive opportunities for mistakes … because … well … it is difficult … and, well, <as a corollary> also provides opportunities for some really neat successes.
The biggest success opportunities?
(a) Organizing the chaos
(b) Getting through the chaos unscathed
Ok. Here is a great visual metaphor example. Days of Thunder. The movie <gosh … I have just been frickin’ waiting to use that movie as an example for something …>. There is a scene where the Robert Duvall character suggests that the way to get through the on-track wreck as a driver is to aim right for the middle of it … aim for the middle of all the chaos and movement and unplanned activity. Sheer chaos. And aim for the smack dab middle. And if you do so you get through the chaos unscathed … and ahead. How awesome is that? And how counter intuitive is that for most of us?
Anyway. Great advice. Ok. Excellent advice.
The thought that while everything is evolving and falling apart you can take advantage of the chaos by aiming right at it. Go into it with a vision in mind.
Anyway. Here is a truth to chew on. Almost all our real opportunities and discoveries, personal or professional, come from chaos. Opportunities arise by going to a place that looks chaotically wrong, stupid or foolish <or all of the above>.
And while I love the concept of chaos ultimately creating order I tend to believe in less random things than chaos … and, just to be clear, believe history is cyclical and stimulus-response (or cause & effect) and all these non-chaos logical semi-linear type thought process type things which seem counter to me liking chaos.
But while I don’t like chaos for its ‘un-orderliness’, I admit, I love the opportunities chaos creates.
So knowing what I know what I think about chaos I looked up some definitions or descriptions before I wrote <what I already knew in my pea like brain>:
There are two fundamental interdependent characterizations of chaos:
- exponential sensitivity to small perturbations (also known as the Butterfly Effect), and
- complex orbit structure (I think this is called Symbolic Dynamics).
And then there is this whole discussion/description of things they call “chaos control methods.”
Well. Yikes. Ok. Double yikes. Butterfly and symbolic and complex orbits and well … whatever. In general I don’t believe in this type of chaos in business.
(but I do love the fact someone came up with all these theory names)
I guess I think about the business concept of chaos as actually a big <or small> tangled ball of string.
In general I think things just get all tangled up <and people call it chaos>. So its not really chaos … it is just something non-chaotic tangled up for some reason <maybe that will make it more palatable to people?>. And it isn’t really chaos because to get tangled up people tend to have some objective in mind even just to get started.
It may not be well thought out.
It may actually even be impulsive behavior type actions <kind of like a series of knee jerk reactions and actions>.
But. Somewhere in that tangle is a common thread. And therein lies the opportunities.
The opportunities are found in the trick of being patient and locating that piece of string to tug out of the mess and tease it out and then the whole mess unravels and becomes untangled and chaos is averted. That metaphor relates to organizational, ideation and creativity. Just think about it before you reject it.
Now. This is going to sound like a contradiction.
Averting chaos is in my nature. Yeah. This means I thrive in inserting myself in a chaotic <tangled> moment.
Unraveling the tangled <chaos> is what floats my boat <which in some weird way almost suggests I thrive on chaos>. I really do not believe I am that different from people in the creative business or even some business “solvers of problems.’
Maybe it would help if I suggested some people simply thrive on chaos for bad reasons <because the lack of structure permits them to avoid making decisions or being responsible for things> and people like me thrive on chaos for good reasons <I see opportunities within as well as the satisfaction in solving or averting total chaos>.
Doesn’t mean I like thinking about it this way but I imagine <looking in the mirror> I do have a larger sense of self worth because chaos exists. Maybe even self esteem <and certainly self actualization … just to close out all the Maslow stuff>. And I admit it does sound exciting to me to throw caution to the wind and dive right into the middle of a chaos situation.
Ironically, I believe I have some ability at spotting the order in what seems chaos to others <something sometimes referred to as pattern recognition>. And because I seem to put myself in these types of situations here are some things about enjoying ‘chaos solutions’ that I have seen:
Pieces are pieces and parts are parts.
This is the “Days of Thunder” example. Gotta look at the horizon and focus because if you don’t … well … you can get smashed by the parts. In business this translates into seeing how the whole is different than the sum of its parts. Huh? Well. The truth is that parts can be put together in multiple ways to create an effective ‘whole.’ Once you recognize that you can keep fairly sane in some relatively insane chaotic moments.
a detachment from things.
Things are a part of the details, and therefore not something to which you can afford to become attached. Nuf said.
a frustration when details keep from advancing the big picture.
This one can really bite me in the ass every once in awhile. This is probably a corollary to the first thing I said. If you get stuck on what seems like a minor (but necessary) detail <lets call it parts> it can not only keep you from making any major advances on the big picture but you also increase the risk of getting smacked around by parts like in Days of Thunder. Mobility is key to success in a chaotic environment. Static means you get blindsided by something. Frankly, I don’t like getting smacked by some parts I know I could have avoided if I had been moving. So I like to keep moving. Regardless. Its gets frustrating when you get bogged down in details.
step by step plans can be frustrating.
Chaos is called chaos for a reason. Shit is swirling around everywhere. A step by step plan doesn’t always get you where you want … and often not quick enough to avert disaster <getting smacked by those damn moving parts> within chaos. Some people can’t function that way. They need step by step plans for everything. Me? I don’t get it. A famous general <Moltke> said “No plan of battle ever survives contact with the enemy.” Yeah. Well. People who need step by step plans? They don’t work well in chaos. I guess the corollary to that is I don’t work well with them in chaos.
Oh. And, from a personal perspective, chaos management is ALL about energy management. If you must create long-term goals you have to break them down as soon as you can and assign tasks. If you don’t … you expend wasted energy trying to envision a long term goal that, frankly, is difficult to envision through the massive swirling chaos in front of you.
You know you need to get somewhere.
You know you should get there as quickly as possible.
Some people don’t like to call it ‘gut’ <combined with some good experience> but there you go. The best at averting chaos just seem to know where to go.
And when you get there? Sure. Tell everyone that was the goal. Who cares. You got there.
Next (and last).
You against the world … is … well … not possible <in general and with chaos>. Success in a chaotic world <or environment> is often defined by who your companions <partners in crime> are.
You need to have partners (in business or personal) who are more orderly than you and, maybe more importantly, are comfortable in your comfort in chaos.
That’s it. Chaos can be good.
All the time? Nope. Because, well, that is chaos. And chaos doesn’t move forward, it just swirls. But sometimes chaos can swirl around parts and they can be put back together again in a different way and that is good. Oh. And don’t forget … chaos well managed creates opportunities & generates energy.
Originally posted March 2012