Discovering Order amidst Chaos
Excerpts from the book “Leadership and the new science: by Margaret Wheatly” alongwith my observations
I recently read this book and am greatly inspired by the views of the author, Margaret Wheatly. I have thus extracted some of her views and added my interpretations to the same. Hope you will like it.
“ This is a world where order and change, autonomy and control are not the great opposites that we had thought them to be. It is a world where change and constant creation are ways of sustaining order and growth”
Order and Chaos are actually two sides of the same coin. We cannot understand chaos if there is no order and vice versa. We would never have known light if there was no darkness and happiness if there was no sadness. The trouble brews when we try to separate the order and chaos and look at them individually. Order is the consequence of chaos.
“Einstein is often quoted as saying: No problem can be solved from the same consciousness that created it”
Usually our first reaction to a problem is to ignore it, suppress it or annihilate it. All these reaction come from the same mindset that contributed to the creation of the problem in the first place. We need to reverse the coin to look for a solution which would dissolve the problem instead of fighting it. Answers do not lie in conflict but in acceptance. For e.g. lets observe the behavior of a stream.
“The stream has an impressive ability to adapt, change and to create new structures. But behind this adaptability is the water’s need to flow. Water answers to gravity, to downhill, to the call of ocean. The forms change, but the mission remains clear. Structures emerge, but only as temporary solutions that facilitate rather than interfere. There is none of the rigidity that I have experienced in organizations, over reliance on structures, procedures and past practices. Streams have more than one response to rocks; otherwise, there’d be no Grand Canyon. The Colorado river realized there were many ways to find the ocean other than by staying broad and expansive”
Our world is comprised of several dimensions and looking at any issue with a single dimensional vision can only provide us only with a myopic outlook. If you watch a 3D film without the 3D glasses you get an idea but clarity is missing. If we have a clarity of our ultimate objective, we will not get derailed by the obstructions and hurdles coming our way. We need to develop the agility and vision to skip and bypass the obstructions instead of having rigid and confrontational outlook.
“Organisations lack the kind of faith the stream has, faith that goals can be accomplished in varied ways. We seem hypnotized by structures, and we build them strong and complex because we believe, they hold back the unknown that threaten to destroy us. Streams have a different relationship with natural forces. With sparkling confidence, they know that it's intense yearning for ocean will be fulfilled, that nature creates not only the call, but also the answer. Many organizations feel they have to defend themselves even against their employees with regulations, guidelines, time clocks, policies and procedures for every eventuality. What a fearful posture this is! It is time to stop now"
Fear is what we are taught from the moment we are born. Be scared of the monster if your behavior is non confirmatory, be scared of nature lest rains make you sick, river drowns you and forest devours you. Be scared of your grades lest you are unsuccessful in life, be scared of your conduct lest you land up in jail!!! We are scared throughout our upbringing, forcing us to create a mental fortress. We create a firewall around us as if everyone out there is only to get us. Fear is the greatest enemy and prevents us from rational thinking and our learning to evolve. Any thought, idea stemming out of fear can never be instrumental in our growth. The rigid systems, procedures that we create out of fear and desire to control can never make an organization that is dynamic, progressive and growth oriented. The answer lies in acceptance. We have made our automobiles, locomotives and aircrafts aero-dynamic to flow with the wind instead of resisting it, yet we have built in rigidity in our own lives with controls and regulations!
“Change is prompted only when an organism decides that changing is the only way to maintain itself. We haven’t thought that we might work with the forces of change. We act quite the opposite; we need to manage change and keep it under control. Strangely, we assert that it’s a particular characteristic of the human species to resist change, even though we’re surrounded by tens of millions of other species that demonstrate wonderful capacities to grow, adapt, and change.” Change is the only thing that has been constant ever since the universe was formed. If we look at nature, we discover amazing capability to adapt to changes. Trees, plants, animals, insects they all evolve to changing challenges. Changing environment provides them with an opportunity to evolve and adapt. We could choose to evolve or remain in a flux till we reach a situation where we are compelled to change or wither"
It is in our inherent nature to resist change. How can we allow someone to pull us out of our comfort zones! We feel comfortable in the familiar surrounding and anything that threatens to change that has to be dealt with strongly and firmly. We accept change only if we are pushed against the wall, we are left with no alternative. Only when we are confronted with the question of survival that our inbuilt instincts of “fight or flight” kicks in. We are hardwired to survive and only when our survival is threatened that we decide to change.
“Each being is noticeable as a separate entity, yet it is simultaneously part of a whole system. While we humans observe and count separate selves, and pay a great deal of attention to the differences that seem to divide us, the fact is, we survive only as we learn how to participate in a web of relationships. This is not a fragile, fragmented world that needs to be held together. This is a world that supports growth and coherence through paradoxes that we need to contemplate"
Matter is made of atoms and atoms contain sub atomic particles. Sub atomic particles are whole and complete in themselves yet are a part of the same atom. All of us are whole and complete in ourselves and yet are part of the universe. We are connected to every other human, plant and animal life….. We just cannot survive in isolation. Our survival depends on the connectedness to the universe. The universe has a tremendous agility of transforming itself in the face of challenges and similar powers have been endowed to every matter that comprises the universe, including us. We create chaos for ourselves when we desire to disrupt this inter-connectedness by our will to control a part of this universe. This desire is contradictory and conflicting with the basic principle of our survival – connectedness. The universe is not a machine where everything is pre configured and outcome is pre determined. If it were, it would have the breakdowns built into the system. But universe never breaks down. It survives by learning and evolving with every chaos and challenge that it is confronted with.
“I am weary of the lists we make, the time projections we spin out, the breaking apart and putting back together of problems. It does not work. The lists and charts we make do not capture experience. They only express our desire to control our reality"
Organizations cannot be run like an army. Here the objective is not to overcome a conflict, the objective is to achieve the goal for which the organization has been created. By installing rigid structures we are robbing the organization of flexibility and evolution. Structures create a permanent chaos as there are no routes for flow of ideas. Water freezes rigid only when it is put in a container. A flowing stream does not freeze. An organization that is open to new ideas flowing seamlessly and is open to change is the organization that can evolve and thrive.
“Why is there such an epidemic of “poor communications” within organizations?
In the evolving universe, information is dynamic and a changing element. It is not limited, quantifiable, put-it-in-an-e-mail-and-send commodity that we pretend it to be. Without information, life cannot give birth to anything new; information is absolutely essential for evolution. Organizations that want to stay vital must search out surprise, looking for what is startling, uncomfortable, and maybe even shocking. Chaos has always partnered with order—a concept that contradicts our common definition of chaos”
It is impossible to control energy like an atomic bomb. So what we need to do is not try to contain or control the energy but discover means of channelizing it! Information is an energy which cannot be contained. It will find a way to flow. We thus need to find a way of channelizing it to our advantage. Standard operating procedures can work when the situations are “standard”. It just does not have flexibility built into it to counter the unexpected situations. In a world full of complexities and ever changing environment, SOP’s can have disastrous consequences.
“It is assumed that most people are dull and they develop new skills only through training. People are thus motivated using fear and rewards; internal motivators such as compassion and generosity are discounted. These beliefs have created a world filled with disengaged workers who behave like robots, struggling in organizations that have become more chaotic and ungovernable over time. Most importantly, as we cling ever more desperately to these false beliefs, we destroy our ability to respond to the major challenges of the times”
Our false belief driven by our EGO creates an impression of our control over energy. By enslaving independent thinking and creativity we convince ourselves of being in control. But thought is energy, and energy cannot be controlled, it can only be channelized. Creating barriers to temporarily contain the energy causes a build up of steam over a period of time and ultimately results in an explosion. An explosion that creates chaos so that a new order may emerge. Phoenix always rises from ashes. A dynamic organization gives up the temptation of controlling the thinking of its people, it instead encourages people to think, generate ideas, share their experiences, create a dynamic flow of uninterrupted information. We cannot grow by stifling the growth of our fellow companions. We can grow only by helping them grow. Obstructionist attitude creates barriers only in self-growth. As we are all connected, any resistance to seamless interaction and integration can only hamper our alignment with the whole.
“What are the criteria we use to judge effective leaders? They include the abilities to communicate a powerful vision, to motivate people to work hard for them, to achieve results, exceed plans, and implement change. We want their leadership to result in a resilient organization able to survive disruptions and crises, one that grows in capacity, that doesn’t lose its way even after the leader retires. If we apply these criteria to the leaders of terrorist networks, they come out with high marks. It’s difficult to acknowledge them as our teachers, but we have much to learn from them about innovation, motivation, resiliency, and the working of networks. Although these groups appear leaderless, they in fact are well-led by their passion, rage, and conviction. They share an ideal or purpose that gives them a group identity and which compels them to act. They are geographically separate, but “all of one mind”. They act free of constraints, encouraged to do “what they think is best” to further the cause. This combination of shared meaning with freedom to determine one’s actions is how system’s grow to be more effective and well-ordered. The science thus predicts why terrorist networks become more effective over time. If individuals are free to invent their own ways to demonstrate support of their cause, they will invent ever more actions, competing with one another for the most spectacular action. These people have been changed by life’s great creative force, chaos”
Knowledge is not a hostage of the privileged. Knowledge can emerge from anywhere, even from a dark abyss. It actually is the root of creativity, which blossoms after a chaos. Our resistance to acknowledge and learn from the information coming out of darkness is our greatest undoing. We can eliminate darkness only by learning about it, from it. Removal of all constraints and allowing free exchange of information creates a dynamic system which can react, adapt and evolve without any intervention from the leadership. Centralized control and “follow the leader” concept can bring down the entire system the moment the “leader” is removed from the equation. A dynamic leader creates an architecture where the information flows both vertically as well as laterally. This architecture ensures continuity even if one or more elements are taken out of the equation.
“No rebirth is possible without moving through a dark passage. Dark times are normal to life; there’s nothing wrong with us when we periodically plunge into the abyss”
Resisting failure is foolhardy. Success always follows the failure. This universe pines for continuous evolution and creation of new vistas. New cannot be created until old is destroyed. We cannot continue clinging to old and dream of creating something new. Rebirth is not possible without death. Decay of old and blooming of new is a continuous cycle in search of creativity. This universe can survive only if there is a new creativity happening every moment, the world is continuously evolving even as we speak.
“In the past, exploration was easier. We could act as patrons and pay somebody to do it for us. They would set sail and bring back to us the answers and riches we coveted. We still want it to work this way; we still look to take what others have discovered and adopt it as our own. But we have all learned from experience that solutions don’t transfer. These failures have been explained by quantum physics. In a quantum world, everything depends on context, on the unique relationships available in the moment. Since relationships are different from place to place and moment to moment, why would we expect that solutions developed in one context would work the same in another? We can no longer act as patrons, waiting expectantly for the right solution. We are each required to go down to the dock and begin our individual journeys. The seas need to be crowded with explorers, each of us looking for our answers. This is a strange world, and it promises only to get stranger. Every moment of this journey requires that we be comfortable with uncertainty and appreciative of chaos’ role. Every moment requires that we stay together”
We can keep telling a child of the danger of putting his hand in fire but he does not understand or realize it. He would still put his hand in fire, get burnt and learn from his experience that fire burns. Our experience of fire does not transfer to him. He has to have his own experience. The age of “follow the leader” is over. Each one of us are leaders in our own right and need to have our own experiences. It’s no more possible to learn from experiences of others. Each one of us perceives our own truths based on our experience, and actions of each one of us is guided by experiences we have had during our journey. We cannot thus say that we are right and someone else is wrong. We have our truth based on our experience and you would have your truth based on your experience. How can I thus say, you are wrong and I am right when we may not have had the same experience?
Each one of us are on a journey of our own and we can learn and rise only by accepting the truths of others, and not by conflicting it. Acceptance and merging of ideas is the only way to learn and progress. Integration of relationships can bring about peace and harmony in the organization resulting in an Order that is lasting. Like the stream, we need to accept the hurdles, evolve and move ahead with the ultimate objective of reaching the ocean.