Order, Chaos and Winning in an Uncertain World
The person you want to become (or business you want to build) lies on the other side of chaos
I write this post relaxing in the lap of order…
I’m sitting on the front porch of a private cabin in the mountains on 50 acres staring out over rolling green hills, a pond, and a rising sun.
The birds are singing, my dog’s running around the open fields and I’m sipping on a warm cup of coffee that’s the perfect companion for this brisk morning mountain air.
My little universe right now is peaceful, quiet, known, and predictable.
Yet lurking beyond this bubble of order is chaos - the unknown, the unpredictable, and the random.
Order vs. Chaos
Chaos is the unforeseen illness that claims a loved one’s life. It’s the wildfire ignited by a strike of lightning. It’s the unforeseen lawsuit, someone breaking into your house, a business partner that cheats you out of a deal, or a new technology that threatens both your job and livelihood.
It’s Russia invading Ukraine, the housing market collapse of 2008, and a virus that shut down the entire world…
In the face of chaos, it becomes easy to be crippled by fear, to stop doing work that matters, and to point the finger of blame at anyone and anything other than ourselves.
We want to retreat to the private oasis of order like the bubble I’m currently sitting in at this secluded mountain cabin.
Yet, order and chaos are fundamental aspects of the universe we live in.
On the one hand, order is necessary for stability and predictability. In a highly ordered system, we can rely on established rules, norms, and processes to guide our decisions and actions. In a highly ordered system, we can count on more security and control because our expectations are constantly being met.
In my marriage, I want order. I want my expectations to be met. I don’t want to find out my wife is cheating on me or leaving me for another man.
I want order in my friendships and relationships as well. I want to be able to count on my friends to do what they say they are going to do. I want to know I can turn to them when I need help or advice.
And I want order in my business (to a point). I want to count on my partners or employees to do their work to standard without needing to be micromanaged. I want to count on my customers to pay their invoices on time. And I want to pay myself a regular salary.
Yet, too much order can be a bad thing.
It can stifle creativity and innovation because when we adhere too rigidly to established rules and norms, we may miss opportunities for new ideas and approaches that could lead to progress. In other words, highly ordered systems have a tendency to become stagnant and resistant to change, making them fragile in rapidly evolving environments.
Let me give 2 easy examples.
The first is a parent who fears chaos and uncertainty so much that he locks his daughter in a bunker to “protect” her in an environment of perfect “order.”
Yes, chaos is not present in the bunker because stability and predictability have been maximized. But what happens when the father passes away? What happens when an earthquake fractures the bunker and it’s no longer usable?
The second example is Blockbuster.
In 2004, Blockbuster was the dominant video rental chain in the United States with 9000 stores worldwide and $5.9 billion in revenue.
Blockbuster liked their bubble.
They liked the predictability of their business model and didn’t want to face the chaos of change coming from fast-moving competitors like Netflix.
So they retreated to their cabin, isolated themselves from the world, and kept chugging along with business as usual…
Until they filed for bankruptcy in 2010.
You Need Chaos
The point I’m trying to make is that we cannot, and should not, attempt to create a world without chaos.
Can chaos be highly disruptive and difficult to manage?
Yet, that’s where growth happens.
Chaos and challenges are what create growth in our lives.
Life without chaos would be a life without growth.
Nike, Tesla, Space X, and your health are excellent examples in this realm.
Today, we view each of these companies as massively successful yet what we don’t see is the mountain of chaos they had to overcome to get to where they are today.
If you’ve ever read Shoe Dog or Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
It’s frankly a miracle any of them managed to make it because there were dozens of “end of the world” chaos moments that spelled disaster and collapse.
Yet, Phil Knight (and his team at Nike) and Elon Musk (and his teams at SpaceX and Tesla) continued to show up and do the work.
They didn’t run for their bubble of order.
Instead, they embraced the uncertainty and found ways to win.
Instead of viewing chaotic events as something happening TO them, they viewed it as something happening for them.
Instead of viewing chaotic events and thinking “I’ll never be able to make this work”, they thought “How can I use this?”
Your health requires exposure to “controlled chaos” as well in the form of training. Training is basically intentional chaos exposure to prepare you for the random chaos you don’t see coming. Training builds up your physiologic reserve and resiliency so something unexpected (like a virus) doesn’t leave you running for the hills.
Ultimately, the person you want to become or the business you want to create lies on the other side of massive chaos.
You can either embrace that chaos, learn to work with it, and grow, OR run, hide, find shelter, and live a life without growth or progress.
Regardless of the path you choose, chaos will find you.
Will you be ready when it does?
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Just think about how crazy this is. In 5-6 years you go from 9000 stores and over $5 billion in revenue to having to file for bankruptcy.
With a little bit of luck helping along the way
Resilience for the win.