Introduction to Chaos Theory

Brett Jordan on Unsplash

September 2021

As I reflect on the status of life these days (my life and the lives of so many others), the ambiguities of living today seem only to be escalating, both globally and locally. Whether we are talking about changing Covid protocols, troop withdrawals, recall elections, shifting work responsibilities, relationships, and meetings, or the new personal challenges that seem to arise daily, each, in their way, can contribute to a sense of feeling overwhelmed and powerless. Collectively, it can lead to a sense of paralysis and loss of meaning. The word “chaos” is used with increasing frequency these days, both in the news and in individual conversations, which reminds me of my introduction to Chaos Theory.

Almost thirty years ago, I was introduced to the book, Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World, written by Margaret Wheatley. In this book, I discovered the relationship between leadership and quantum physics, chaos theory in particular. Several of the assumptions of chaos theory include not only the belief that chaos is a part of the natural order of life but that at the heart of chaos is order, often a new or different order, that naturally will unfold over time as impacted parties learn what needs to be learned. Additionally, the emergence of order is slowed to the degree that one too quickly tries to fix what seems to be the problem, creating chaos instead of asking first what needs to be learned.

Chaos Theory Assumptions

Chaos is part of the natural order

At the heart of chaos is order

A new or different order will unfold over time, when the lessons needed to be learned, are learned

Order is slowed to the degree that one too quickly tries to fix the problem, rather than learn.

During the past week, I experienced what might be a micro example of Chaos Theory. It began when a client informed me that a regularly scheduled monthly meeting was being moved, which meant not only the need to reschedule plane, car, and hotel reservations but also the need to inform my business partner that I would not be available for our semi-annual company planning meeting of which I was a vital part. After rescheduling my travel plans, I found out that the client meeting had been moved one more time, which necessitated the rescheduling process one more time. When I informed my partner of the good news, she responded by saying, “Well, the good news is that I didn’t do anything on this, so no problem.” I then thought that if I had not been so quick to react to the change, I could have saved quite a bit of time and energy myself.

On an organizational or personal level, today’s leader might first consider taking a little more time while managing the chaos as it unfolds to see if any emerging order is beginning to appear.

Questions for a leader’s consideration:

  1. To what extent is the chaos that I am experiencing understandable and even necessary?
  2. What, if anything, needs to be done and by when?
  3. What, if anything, can I learn?
  4. What new order may be beginning to emerge amid the current chaos?
  5. What does managing chaos mean for a leader or a leadership team?



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Ray Rood/The Genysys Group

Ray Rood/The Genysys Group

Raymond Rood is the founder and senior consultant of The Genysys Group. Ray is an expert in organizational transformation and consulting.