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Creative Learning Director of
The Flirefly Group.
© 2013 Brian Remer
Updated Apr. 2013
99's on the 9th
Ideas based on 99-Word Stories that
come to you on the 9th of every month.
Hi Brian, I liked your thoughts about chaos. It is a topic I have written about in relation to meetings (quite brief - but not in 99 words!) --Roger Greenaway
Note: Roger writes and teaches about active learning, experiential learning, and reviewing skills. Learn more about him at Active Reviewing.
Hey Brian, When I read 'chaos' I was reminded of "doubt' in relation to one's faith. It seems that only by doubting we can begin to discover. It seems all science is based on this concept. The scientists proceed with some doubt that a theory or discovery is the final answer. So, they put stuff back into the test tube. It is then either proven of improved upon. Keep up the good stuff. --Jim, Phoenix, AZ
Brian: I like this a lot. It's a great reminder to look at the bright side, think positive, count our blessings and so on and so on. It's such a joyful piece. And really, really true! Thank you. --Kate, Sarasota, FL
When my daughter was a young reader she asked, "Have you noticed how the word 'chaos' looks a lot like the word 'choice'?" Though you may not agree, the two actually have a strong relationship.
Scientists describe chaos as a state in which all potentialities are present within a given boundary. Anything is possible. Randomness rules. The outcome is unpredictable and uncertain - until a choice is made and one future path becomes more certain than the others.
When we are surrounded by chaos, we are also surrounded by maximum possibility, by choices. Get unstuck. Choose and move.
You can build upon the theme of this 99-Word Story by using some of the following questions for your own reflection or to spark a discussion within your team or organization.
There are many ways to understand this story as the discussion questions suggest. If you or your group would like to compare or contrast your interpretation with an outside viewpoint, consider this analysis.
Turmoil, confusion, unpredictability, randomness, that's our quotidian definition of chaos. So the scientific understanding, that chaos is a field of vast potentialities within a defined boundary, is surprising and counter intuitive. It suggests that, if we could only see the world from a wide enough perspective, things would make sense. We would be able to see the "confusion" as potential choices overlapping each other, rather than disjointed options swirling about. Chaos theory tells us that when anything is possible, there is also the potential for any outcome.
The word "potential" is key and its nuances of meaning are important.
- Possible as opposed to actual: "The potential uses of solar energy."
- Capable of being or becoming: "A potential opportunity for growth."
- A latent excellence or ability that may or may not be developed. "The potential to excel as an actor."
- Someone or something that is considered a worthwhile possibility: "The list of job applications has been narrowed to half a dozen potentials."
If we are surrounded by confusion, potential remains largely unseen and unnoticed. To state the obvious, it's hard to see something that hasn't manifest yet. Instead, it's easier to notice what's not up to par; what's lacking, what needs improvement, what's deficient, what's chaotic.
Though we often try to fix things by bringing order to chaos, it can be more productive to focus on the potential opportunities of a situation. This was certainly true in the work of Abraham Maslow as he developed his Theory of Human Motivation.
Maslow studied what he called exemplary people like Albert Einstein, Jane Addams, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Frederick Douglass rather than people with neuroses or mental health conditions. He thought that if all you studied were people with mental illnesses who were in the midst of chaos, you would end up with an "illness psychology." He didn't see how people could learn to be healthy with that kind of thinking. He said, "Contemporary psychology has mostly studied not-having rather than having, striving rather than fulfillment, frustration rather than gratification, seeking for joy rather than having attained joy, trying to get there rather than being there."
Though his example sounds dated after nearly 70 years, Maslow's ideas about focusing on possibilities and potential can lead to surprising results. As he puts it, "A husband's conviction that his wife is beautiful or a wife's firm belief that her husband is courageous, to some extent creates the beauty or the courage. This is not so much a perception of something that already exists as a bringing into existence by belief."
By our belief in the potential of other people, we actually set in motion the development of that potential. Order comes from chaos when we choose to focus on potential rather than lamenting what is lacking.
For additional information about chaos theory and its relationship to the structure of organizations as well as its application to everyday living, consult the following sources.
Briggs, John and Peat, F. David. Seven Life Lessons of Chaos. Harper Perennial. 1999. ISBN: 0-06-093073-X.
Gleick, James. Chaos: Making a New Science. Penguin Books. 1987. ISBN: 0-14-00.9250-1.
Wheatley, Margaret J. Leadership and the New Science. Berrett-Koehler. 1992. ISBN: 1-881052-44-3.
Did you use this 99-Word Story and the discussion questions or interpretation in your work or personal life? If so, about your experience! If you would like help using 99-Word Stories in your organization, please me.
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