Chaos and creativityAccording to an anonymous quote I read recently “Chaos is not merely a mindless jiggling, it’s a subtle form of order”. Chaos theory is closely linked to creativity so I will provide a brief introduction. In reality there is no chaos, just different levels of order!

There are some fundamental concepts which I first need to point out:

  • The key for us to perceive or observe order is perspective
  • There can be order in apparent randomness
  • It only takes a very small change to move from a chaotic system into an ordered one and vice versa. Such events have been labelled as a ‘strange attractor’.

Imagine you are inside a system which appears chaotic, for instance an atom. You will observe electrons whizzing around your head like insects in a random fashion. Step up a level and you will notice that everything appears more ordered. If you step up to the molecular, you should notice that things will appear more ordered still.

In science lessons at school we have all observed Brownian motion. Here molecules apparently move in a random fashion when heated. Later we discovered that they conformed to a mathematical formula after our teachers conducted a random walk experiment.

It seems that if we can attain a high enough vantage point then we can indeed ‘separate the wood from the trees’. Slip low down and once again we become lost in chaos.

How can we make use of this knowledge within our organisations and businesses? Well layers of hierarchy do remove those at the top from the apparent chaos. At each level those within the organisation must learn to recognise the patterns of the adjacent level.

Insert too many layers and you cannot see what is happening, and if we insert too few will result in brains frazzled by complexity. For an organisation the implications are profound. To improve the performance of an organisation we must do a little pruning. We must remove some of the layers that build up over time that merely act as sticking plasters.

Too many attempts to interpret or understand is a little like Chinese Whispers, and then to make sure we have it right we begin writing everything down as procedures and red tape takes over. We then restore order, but we may lose creativity forever.

We must learn to walk that fine line between complexity and order that allows us to both implement a strategy and make use of chaos at the same time.

This is the key principle of the creative organisation.

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