Harnessing Chaos: And Unusual Suspects

“In our corporations, in other organizations in our communities, and in our personal lives, we strive to minimize chaos, with all its unpredictability and uncertainty.  By definition chaos is the enemy of organization.”  –Ori Brafman ‘The Chaos Imperative’

But what if it wasn’t the enemy? What if it was an opportunity? What if chaos was seen as a spark to ignite pockets of innovative change? What if it could be harnessed to push us out of the linear and predictable mindsets that predicate the majority of our institutions and organizations? What if it was seen as a penetrating dynamic to disrupt the regimented regularity and routine that dominates the majority of our organizational lives?

Think of chaos being like a tornado. On the outside it can be seen as an unpredictable and even destructive force, but the deeper we dive into it the more we see a strange, calming space that lies at its core. It is in this space that small pockets of chaos can create the opportunity for new, novel, creative and innovative ideas to incubate, percolate and collide against the structures of sameness and status quo that we’ve created over time.

Utilizing and unleashing that power and momentum, ultimately creates the space for more creative and innovative thinking, ideas and action to take hold.

It is in The Chaos Imperative that author Ori Brafman shares three ways to harness and use chaos to our advantage, one of which is the idea of unusual suspects. Which he adds, “For new ideas to grow, you also need some unusual suspects.”

The problem is, most of our hierarchical structures and organizational charts do more to force the usual suspects than allow space for the infusion of unusual suspects. Too often we keep the same people in the room, instead of the right people. We spend endless hours discussing maintenance problems without having a custodian in the room, a classroom management challenge without a teacher in the room, an infrastructure issue without an IT person in the room, and on and on the cycle goes.

We continue to focus on the same pervasive issues, challenges and problems with the same usual suspects in the room and still wonder why we struggle to solve them. Hierarchical structures keep us to focused on the same over the right people in the room.

The usual over the unusual suspects…

It is when we bring unusual suspects into those meetings and committees that proliferate our organizations and institutions, that we begin to see new connections, new ideas, and new thinking.  As Brafman shares, “And the knowledge was there all along. You just had to get the right people in the same room.”

The job of leadership is not only in connecting new dots and new ideas, it is in connecting the right people to the right challenges, issues and problems that plague our organizations. It is the work of today’s leaders to infuse a bit of chaos, to bring the unusual suspects to the table. Especially in a time where we will need all of the creative and innovative thinking and ideas at our disposal to deal with a world that has shifted from the technical to the adaptive.

So the next time a challenge, issue or problem is on the table, look around and make sure that the right, not just the same people are at the table. Otherwise, it might be time to bring in those unusual suspects.

“Inviting new people to the table – from different departments or disciplines and from different levels of the company’s or organization’s hierarchy – can help open the door for serendipity.”  -Ori Brafman ‘The Chaos Imperative’


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