Living at the Edge of Chaos: It may not be as bad as it sounds


It’s on the news, in our workplace; we face it everyday, even in the sanctuary of our homes. We can’t outrun it or hide from it. It is there, everywhere we turn.

As a cumulative race, we are living on the edge of chaos. Some of it created by others and some created by ourselves.

Senior level executives and up and coming MBAs are taught in graduate school how to lead in chaos. Therapists help their patients adapt to the chaos in their lives. We drug ourselves and our children to cope with chaos.

Most businesses, services and products today are created to help us adjust to or relax from the chaos that is all around us. Even those who cut themselves off from television news and newspapers can’t cocoon themselves from the chaotic world.

Do you often feel like a captain of a ship that has battled a month of rough waters at sea, tossed to and throw? Did you choose to be in those circumstances? Yes. Would you do it again? Maybe. Was it chaotic? Most certainly. Was there an easier way? Probably.

The debate is ongoing if one can control chaos or if it controls us. By accepting chaos as an essential process by which people and organizations renew and revitalize themselves, we can see chaos not as a loss of control but the means by which real solutions are possible.

It’s in chaos that true creativity can renew and revitalize the system and solutions can be seen.

A new definition
You can’t control chaos any more than you can the future actions of others. We need a new definition of chaos. If we substitute the word process for chaos, it takes on a different tone.

Now chaos doesn’t seem so frightening. In fact, chaos becomes something to be embraced, because it’s the first step to a new, creative, and perhaps orderly, system.

It’s at the edge of chaos where disorder and unpredictability help keep a system flexible. It’s vital for continuing evolution for a system to produce innovation.

Systems shouldn’t seek adaptation or equilibrium, but should follow strategies that hold it away from them – at the edge of chaos.

When a person or an organization adapts to an environment, the air supply to creation and recreation is cut off. This process of recreation is what is known as learning in adaptation and where great discoveries are made.

Some believe that chaos is the only state where a person or system is capable of novelty, variety, innovation and increased creativity. In other words, if a person is not forced to change because of their circumstances, they may never change on their own. The environment forces change.

Order & chaos
The edge of chaos is the gray matter where short-term order coexists with chaos. It’s the phase where the transition between one and the other take place. It’s where one is not committed to either and can look at all sides more objectively.

Author Mark Caine wrote, "The first step toward success is taken when you refuse to be a captive of the environment in which you first find yourself." If one is not a captive to the chaos, they’re able to see and make changes with greater ease.

Our rigidness tells us to stay the course, even if it no longer serves us or makes sense.

It’s in this zone – living on the edge of chaos – where we are at our optimum, willing to merge and become one with challenge and uncertainty, and paradoxically, not caring at the same time.

The edge of chaos is where disorder and unpredictability help keep a system flexible. It’s the place one dances between the paradoxes in life to truly experience and live it. Here one becomes the observed and the observer.

Thriving in chaos
Standing on the edge of chaos can be a dangerous place if one makes the wrong choice, yet it can be life-changing and offer the greatest rewards. It can redefine a life, an organization, and a society.

Many great people and risk takers have mastered the fine art of living and thriving at the edge of chaos. Aristotle believed "it is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it."

In a world that is more uncertain, where safety can’t be guaranteed, will there always be chaos? The answer may be found in an old Native American story about two wolves.

One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.

He said, "My son, the battle is between two ‘wolves’ inside us all. One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego.

"The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith."

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: "Which wolf wins?"

The old Cherokee simply replied, "The one you feed."

Dancing on the edge of chaos, you have a choice of which way to sway or even to be affected at all.

Copyright © 2005 Brenda Miller. All rights reserved.

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Brenda Miller
Brenda Miller is a forecaster and whole-systems design strategist. As a Certified Master Professional Futurist, and Certified Trainer in Emotional Intelligence, she specializes and helps people, businesses, and organizations see, understand, and respond to change so they can creatively design a brighter future. Ms. Miller is President and Chief Global Strategist of New Crotona, a Futures-based consultancy providing services in futures planning, advertising, marketing, business strategies, team building, leadership coaching, and Internet business solutions and website development. Ms. Miller is President of the Minnesota Futurists Association and a Professional Member of the World Futurists. For more information, contact her at (651) 731-4037 or e-mail [email protected], and visit Copyright © 2005 Brenda Miller. All rights reserved.


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