Order & Chaos

We spend our life attempting to bring some order out of the chaos,

In the movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, everyone is lining up and taking their evening meds… order. Then Jack Nicholson enters the picture… chaos. Order and chaos. There are so many opposites that we navigate through on this life long journey of ours. However, one distinction is like the foreground and background and sometimes the two change rapidly. I’m talking about order and chaos. We live with both through all our lives. We seek order and find chaos. The distinction between them plays out in the business world all the time. Small entrepreneurial companies are chaotic, there isn’t enough order. There is a lot of firefighting going on. Hair on fire. Reacting to problems all the time. Everything is an emergency.

And large bureaucratic firms have too much order, they become stifling and controlling. Forms filled out in triplicate, talk in hushed tones. Everything is scheduled, far in advance. Innovation has died long ago. As a consultant, an underlying part of what I do, is help the leaders navigate along these lines, normally bringing in more order. But sometimes, a little chaos is called for.

Let’s describe some the characteristics of both:

“When order is overdone, totalitarianism results and slavish obedience to authority”

Look at the goose-stepping German soldiers above. This is what can happen when order gets overdone. Of course, things aren’t much better when there is too much chaos. Look at what happens to Thelma and Louise when their road trip escalates out of control.

Thelma and Louise.  With too much chaos, bad things can happen.

Why is it important to think a little more carefully about order and chaos? Much of the ambivalence I see managers facing at work is around this issue at deep levels. How much control do we need in the company? How rigorous do we need to define and follow our processes? Rarely do the managers consider adding a little chaos to the mix. If things are too comfortable, too predictable, too boring, and you are starting to lose employees and customers, it might be time to introduce a little chaos into your business model. Variety is the spice of life.