Friday, March 7, 2014

Chaos and order are the natural order of things

Dee Hock, Founder and CEO Emeritus of VISA International, arguably the most profitable organisation in the world, explains in his book One From Many, that chaos and order are the natural order of things.

Consider this. VISA exists to exchange value, represented by digital money. How can chaos be part of such a world? Surely everything must be ordered for VISA to function.

senior couple of old man and woman sitting on the beach watchingYet its founder argues that while it is human to desire everything to be in order, the natural order of life is that it isn’t. 

To demonstrate please come for a walk with me. We are standing on the edge of the ocean facing inland. Slowly we walk up the beach. At first we encounter some small sand-dunes with no sand grass on them, then we encounter some larger sand-dunes with scattered sand grass. The sand grass gets thicker as we venture up the beach. Then the sand grass begins to give way to small shrubs, then bigger shrubs. We start to notice less sand and more dirt under our feet. Soon we are entering a forest with tall trees and shelter from the sun and the beach seems a long way behind us.

This walk seems orderly. There is an obvious progression and change from sand to sand grass, to small shrubs and eventually to fully grown trees. Yet there is a large degree of chaos that exists within the order presented above.
Sand-dunes shift. Which seed of sand grass survives and which one doesn’t is seemingly random. The same issue exists for the seeds for the small shrubs and finally the larger trees. Chaos exists side by side with order.

Dee Hock created the word ‘Chaordic‘ to describe this reality.

People who do not understand that chaos and order co-exist are constantly frustrated. As much as we may try to make the world orderly, it isn’t. One of the primary reasons is that humans are chaordic by nature. We have the power of choice and will exercise that choice in both rational and irrational ways.
Leaders need to understand that ‘chaos happens’ from time to time. A highly valued staff member resigns and tells you they are leaving the industry. The government changes a law which directly impacts your revenue. Your computer system crashes due to a virus.

I’m not advocating that we shouldn’t do whatever we can to increase order. Take our roads. What would happen to the road toll if we eliminated speed limits and traffic lights? It is hard to imagine that increasing chaos on our roads wouldn’t increase accidents and therefore deaths. Clearly more orderly roads are safer for us all. But accidents still happen and some humans choose to break the rules.

My point is that no matter how hard we try to control everything, chaos will find a way to penetrate our order. Why? Because, it is the natural order of things.

As a leader, your challenge is to develop the capacity to live with and manage chaos when it comes. Because it will come.

Gary Ryan enables leaders and their teams to move Beyond Being Good™.