Instigating At The Edge Of Chaos

“Nothing novel can emerge from systems with high degrees of order and stability. On the other hand, complete chaotic systems, are too formless to coalesce. Generative complexity takes place in the boundary between rigidity and randomness.”  -Richard Pascale Surfing The Edge Of Chaos

One of the things that many leaders strive for is a strong sense of equilibrium and cohesion within our organizations. Our ongoing efforts are often heavily focused on creating greater levels of structure and stability across our systems. In fact, we often spend inordinate amounts of our time trying to find and incorporate strategies to release tension and levy serenity and calmness across the entirety of our organizational landscapes.

But maybe, just maybe, we are placing our energy in the wrong place, in the wrong direction?

Maybe instead of trying to relieve tension, we should be looking for ways to instigate it. Is it possible that today’s leaders need to spend less time focused on cohesion and a bit more time engaged in exploring and grappling with the turbulence and tension that exists in the chasm between chaos and order? In learning how to ride the tension which exists and resides in that space between those two forces?

Moving past your lid is uncomfortable, but necessary. Especially in today’s rapidly changing and shifting world.

Which is why they call it leadership, and not management. As Pascale shares in Surfing the Edge of Chaos, the difficult part is “getting the tension right.” It is finding the sweet spot between order and chaos. It is in finding a place of comfort in uncomfortableness.

Which requires a bit of turbulence and chaos, especially as the organization is knocked off balance and pushed out of its equilibrium. Which is vital for both individuals and organizations to thrive effectively in today’s world of constant change. Or as Pascale shares in Surfing the Edge of Chaos, “For any system to survive, it must cultivate variety in its internal controls. If it fails to do so internally: it will fail to cope with variety successfully when it comes from an external source.”

Which is paramount to the survival of any of today’s organizations or systems. For what was once insulated, is insulated no longer. Today’s organizations and systems are being pelted relentlessly from a variety of sources, both internally and externally. Inability to cope with this relentless onslaught and shift and pivot when necessary, ultimately leads to ineffectiveness, and ultimately irrelevance and or obsolescence.

So as we consider the futures of our organizations and systems in today’s VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world, consider these thoughts from Pascale in Surfing the Edge of Chaos, “Species are inherently drawn toward the seeming oasis of stability and equilibrium – and the further they drift toward this destination, the less likely they are to adapt successfully when change is necessary.”


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