Sunday, May 16, 2010

Working on the edge

If everything seems under control, you're just not going fast enough. -- Mario Andretti
In the past few weeks, a critically important idea has come up over and over again in my conversations with people who are leading in environments of rapid change, uncertainty or disagreement. 
These conversation all start with affirmation of a compelling vision, and the commitment of time and energy that it takes to bring that vision to life. Pretty soon we get to the part about how difficult and tiring it is trying to control all of the pieces of the effort. Eventually get to the challenges of building a structure, organization or container that would allow for control of all those pieces.

The people holding these wonderful visions are often frustrated, or tired, or highly stressed. Some question whether they will be able to move the effort far enough to realize the vision.

So then I draw out this little diagram:
I point out that creativity and new possibility don’t happen in the circles of order or control. Life may seem so much more manageable when our work is orderly and some of may yearn for control, but very little innovation can take place there.

At the other end is chaos and the extreme of apathy and despair (chamos). In chaos, a lot may be happening but very little may be getting done. What does get done takes more effort and and leaves more bruised egos and hurt feelings. In chamos, everyone pretty much gives up.

Nothing new and exciting happens at the two extremes. People are incapable of acting out of apathy and despair. People are strongly discouraged from innovating when control is exerted too strongly.

To realize our visions for better organizations, better communities and a better world, it will take us choosing to work on the edge between order and chaos.

My next posting will discuss what it is like to work on the edge.