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The Order on the Other Side of Chaos

--by Margaret Wheatley (Jun 23, 2014)


I use the word "chaos" to describe those times in an organization when people are confused, don't know what to do, and feel overwhelmed by information that they can't make sense of. If we recognize chaos as a potentially generative force in our organization, then the first task, when chaos erupts, is not to shut it down, not to reach for early closure, not to immediately move back to our past comfort level. At those moments, what people do not need is for someone else to come in and make sense of it all for them. Nor do they need the other normal strategy, which is to back away from all of this information and just work a piece of it. What they need instead are processes by which they can stay with the discomfort of that information long enough that they get knocked off their certainty, long enough for them to reach the clarity that they no longer know what works, that their model, their frame for organizing this problem or this organization doesn't work any more.

That's what I call chaos, when people move into such deep confusion that they let go of their present conceptions of how to solve a problem. When they move into that place of not knowing, and stay there for a while, what happens is that the process of "self organization" kicks in.

Living systems, when confronted with change, have the capacity to fall apart so that they can reorganize themselves to be better adapted to their current environment. We always knew that things fell apart, we didn't know that organisms have the capacity to reorganize, to self-organize.  

We didn't know this until the Noble-Prize-winning work of Ilya Prigogine in the late 1970's.  But you can't self-organize, you can't transform, you can't get to bold new answers unless you are willing to move into that place of confusion and not-knowing -- which I call chaos.

In my work, I find that you can create intentional chaos by overloading people with important and relevant information that they can't make sense of.  We help people generate information that finally overwhelms them. The information has to be relevant, and it has to be important. It has to deal with big questions.  People get scared and frustrated, and they want to problem-solve their way out of the chaos. But we don't let them. We keep generating even more information. Finally they let go.

Once they let go, they have the capacity to come up with bold solutions that integrate all of the information. At the other side of chaos, you get a new kind of order -- an order that is adaptive, that is transforming, that is all the things we want an organization to be.

Margaret Wheatley is an author of six books and a management consultant who studies organizational behavior. Her approach includes systems thinking, theories of change, chaos theory, leadership and the learning organization: particularly its capacity to self-organize.  Excerpt above is from a conversation with Joe Flower.

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On Aug 14, 2014 Davidoff wrote:

 The definition of CHAO is "Goodbye (Spanish - got it from a Minneapolis website)". It comes from Italian ciao (pronunciation is like chao). It means Good bye. This word is also used by some French and Spanish speakers with same meaning.



On Jun 26, 2014 rose encabo wrote:

 
isnt that Lao Tzu who said that... be still till the right thing comes naturally... something like that

we were taught at school to be reactive not responsive... the dffererence between the two... is time stood still 



On Jun 26, 2014 drukta wrote:

 Basic biology - when an invader enters the human blood stream the white corpuscles break up and surround it to overcome it ... they don't just go head-on or slide by ... and eureka the body is cured , in fact it acquires immunity !!! growing stronger out of chaos / confusion ????



2 replies: Lfm, Neelam | Post Your Reply
On Jun 24, 2014 david doane wrote:

 For sure, chaos is a potentially generative force.  I learned that there are two states of being, that is, stable and growing.  Growth can and does happen in all circumstances, but we typically grow the most in unstable times.  Stable is rather dead.  It's unstable and even chaotic times that are generative, most alive, and during which there is the potential to grow the most.  I've been in interactions during which I've stayed in the present which became chaos, not having a goal and not knowing where we were going and not trying to make a particular outcome happen, and I find such interactions to be a little scary, mostly exhilarating, and full of growth potential.  Yes, I found order on the other side of chaos, in the sense that things made sense and some wisdom was gained, but I wasn't looking for order, and the order was temporary particularly if I stayed in the present which opened to the next chaos.  I don't think of it as my developing p  See full.

 For sure, chaos is a potentially generative force.  I learned that there are two states of being, that is, stable and growing.  Growth can and does happen in all circumstances, but we typically grow the most in unstable times.  Stable is rather dead.  It's unstable and even chaotic times that are generative, most alive, and during which there is the potential to grow the most.  I've been in interactions during which I've stayed in the present which became chaos, not having a goal and not knowing where we were going and not trying to make a particular outcome happen, and I find such interactions to be a little scary, mostly exhilarating, and full of growth potential.  Yes, I found order on the other side of chaos, in the sense that things made sense and some wisdom was gained, but I wasn't looking for order, and the order was temporary particularly if I stayed in the present which opened to the next chaos.  I don't think of it as my developing patience to find order on the other side of chaos -- that sounds too goal directed.  What happened is I learned that wonderful growth can come from chaos, so I can at least sometimes allow it to happen, be patient with the process, and trust that growth will likely come from it.

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On Jun 24, 2014 Ganoba wrote:

 chaos and confusion is experienced only when we do not move on with the flow of time. the universe is constantly renewing itself. When we accept this and notice the subtle changes taking place then we would be filled with awe and wonder not fear and uncertainty. The way to be happy is to be in sync with the  ever alive present.



On Jun 24, 2014 Teriana wrote:

 This article is excellent and so very true. Unfortunately fear almost always accompanies chaos. My experience has been that unless the organization's leader can be comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty, he or she will just reinforce old systems even though they no longer work. This effort is most often executed through micro-management and bureaucratic procedures that remove the decision-making power of the individual. One need only observe government agencies to see this in action. The same can be said of an individual, but those who have a strong spiritual practice tend to be more comfortable with chaos. They have developed the faith and patience to allow the situation to settle into a new, higher order. This is the basis of personal growth and maturity, but it requires courage.



1 reply: Jo | Post Your Reply
On Jun 24, 2014 PRATIK SHAH wrote:

 Chaos by over loading people and rightly said by J. Krishnamurti division brings conflict and conflict and chaos both creation of human being because of insecurity. We all suffer from insecurity and deep meditation only solution to such condition for each individual. One day entire world will be vaikunth  free from cast, religion, and boundary predicted by BRAHMAKUMARI ( BABA LEKHRAJ )  SATUG WILL COME



On Jun 24, 2014 genevieve wrote:

 When chaos is an acceptance of letting go it becomes a beautiful word...



On Jun 23, 2014 Paashi Grewal wrote:
 The generative response to Intentionally created chaos in an organizational setting versus naturally occurring chaos will depend on the individual's mental and physical strength.

 My parents both in their eighties are handling age related changes very differently.  My father gets overwhelmed with  emotional reactions and  views events as chaotic while my  mother has a receptive response and allows the family dramas to play itself out.   Aging does decrease the generative potential of creating order from chaos.
From the article I sense, practicing and overload of Information chaos in a business setting has the adrenaline rush for young players playing the team game.
 

On Jun 23, 2014 Paashi Grewal wrote:

 Caught in the grip of chaos in my mid-twenties, my brain physically  went into circles of  ever-expanding dark space and the mind shut down but the inner resilience of the heart held on with instinctive impulse to stay anchored in the present moment.   This whole experience lasted less than an hour.  Reflecting on it now, three decades later:  the generative force embedded a core sense of cellular level strength that has been with me through quite a few crisis.  The beauty of our evolved  human organism and the human spirit have the potential to generate inner order and adapt to create external order both individually and collectively.



1 reply: A | Post Your Reply
On Jun 20, 2014 me wrote:

 Time. Failing again and again.  Sitting back . . . Rest and contemplation.  Learning.  Reaching beyond myself and circumstance.  New friends.  Trust. . . 
But, ultimately, it goes back to "time" (God's time).  (He leads us "to order" only after assisting us to understand what brought us to chaos in the first place.)



On Jun 20, 2014 Kristin Pedemonti wrote:

"One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.” Nietzsche. Interesting article, especially given the fact that the rate of change is faster than Ever in history, information now doubles every 20 months, add to that technology changes = chaos. I believe Being With the chaos helps, rather than running from it. Breathing and being and knowing. However, if the author is suggesting Purposefully overloading people with more and more information, I believe that is a form of cruelty. Some people, my Mom as an example, cannot handle change nor cope with it; if someone were to pile that change one on top of the other my Mom would have a complete mental breakdown which serves no one. Others are like this too, and the breakdown does not always lead to solution, but to shutdown. I would say for those who enjoy and challenge and are resilient, it can be possible for the chaos to lead to problem solving and to different ways of thinking about o  See full.

"One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.” Nietzsche. Interesting article, especially given the fact that the rate of change is faster than Ever in history, information now doubles every 20 months, add to that technology changes = chaos. I believe Being With the chaos helps, rather than running from it. Breathing and being and knowing. However, if the author is suggesting Purposefully overloading people with more and more information, I believe that is a form of cruelty. Some people, my Mom as an example, cannot handle change nor cope with it; if someone were to pile that change one on top of the other my Mom would have a complete mental breakdown which serves no one. Others are like this too, and the breakdown does not always lead to solution, but to shutdown. I would say for those who enjoy and challenge and are resilient, it can be possible for the chaos to lead to problem solving and to different ways of thinking about or considering an issue. Depends on the person/group. In my own life, chaos has led to lifestyle change and it has also led to better resilience in realizing, 'this won't kill me.'  

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1 reply: Amy | Post Your Reply
On Jun 20, 2014 Abhishek Thakore wrote:

In my experience the person holding space during chaos is of essence. Just as a natural child birth has to be facilitated by a skillful mid-wife, the birth of new adaptive order from chaos requires a conscious human being - someone who is almost empty to let nature operate through him or her. Left ONLY to nature, chaos may claim its casualties before order is restored - a compassionate catalyst on the other hand, greases the transition with love and presence which to me make the process worthwhile. Also, induced chaos will work only when in limited quantities or controlled environment - if the magnitude of the chaos induced (to encourage emergence) destabilizes the system, then we have a problem! Finally, in my experience, slowing down the process when there is chaos creates space for nature to operate - which as a facilitator I try and do. As a recent experience, a certain training activity did not go as planned - but holding space for the debrief took to conversation to an entirely  See full.

In my experience the person holding space during chaos is of essence.

Just as a natural child birth has to be facilitated by a skillful mid-wife, the birth of new adaptive order from chaos requires a conscious human being - someone who is almost empty to let nature operate through him or her.

Left ONLY to nature, chaos may claim its casualties before order is restored - a compassionate catalyst on the other hand, greases the transition with love and presence which to me make the process worthwhile.

Also, induced chaos will work only when in limited quantities or controlled environment - if the magnitude of the chaos induced (to encourage emergence) destabilizes the system, then we have a problem!

Finally, in my experience, slowing down the process when there is chaos creates space for nature to operate - which as a facilitator I try and do.

As a recent experience, a certain training activity did not go as planned - but holding space for the debrief took to conversation to an entirely new space in similar depth as it would have if the activity would have worked :) So nature is at play all the time!

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