Chaos vs Disorder — Not the Same!

The differentiation between complicated and complex is starting to be understood by many. The next concept to get after this is chaos vs disorder.

The word chaos is mostly used incorrectly. “It descended into chaos” should most often be replaced by “It descended into disorder”. Well — that correction was only true once Chaos theory was born so our common phrases are just lagging behind the development of the new sciences of Chaos Theory and Complex Systems.

An attribute of a chaotic system is that it is capable of self-organizing. A chaotic system may appear random from the outside as does a disordered system, but the difference is the ability for that system to organize itself into an ordered state. Once I understood this distinction, I now see chaos and complexity all around me, particularly in the natural world. They are beautiful and powerful.

It is so counter-intuitive that there is a relationship between chaos and order, but they are two sides of the coin. Truly remarkable.

“Self-organisation is the life force of the world, thriving on the edge of chaos with just enough order to funnel its energy.” — Frederick Laloux

Chaos is where the birth of new ideas, innovation and natural order stems from. If you want innovation in your organization, it's time you studied chaos theory and systems thinking and think about how to bring more chaos into your organization. You don't want to stay in a state of chaos, but you do need to be able to dip in and out of it.

Throwing seeds randomly into the soil is an act of chaos. An Open Space Conference is an act of chaos (which then rapidly moves into complexity). Weather is chaotic, as is the universe itself. Chaos is responsible for each snowflake being uniquely distinct. Chaos creates natural order.

Chaos and Companies

Harrison Owen (the father of Open Space Technology) describes a company as being Proactive when chaos is the enemy and control is the most important thing. Once a company starts to let go of control (forced order) and move to natural order, complexity consciousness, and chaos embracing, he would describe it as moving to Interactive and past that, Inspired. I think this might also map onto Frederic Laloux’s Orange to Teal and Turquoise, and in Tribal Leadership Stage 3 to Stages 4 and 5. (See Furter Reading below for these references.)

A Murmuration of Starlings

Further Reading

How Order Emerges from Chaos In the Universe, Nature, and Daily Life
By Steven H. Strogatz

Making a New Science
By James Gleick

Leadership and the New Science
Discovering Order in a Chaotic World
By Margaret J. Wheatley

Surfing the Edge of Chaos
The Laws of Nature and the New Laws of Business
By Richard Pascale, Mark Milleman, Linda Gioja

The Power of Spirit
How Organizations Transform
By Harrison Owen

One from Many
VISA and the Rise of Chaordic Organization
By Dee Hock, Peter M. Senge (forward)

Tribal Leadership
Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization
By Dave Logan, John King, Halee Fischer-Wright

Reinventing Organizations
A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness
By Frederic Laloux

Software Crafter, Disruptor, Pioneer and Intrapreneuer. On a mission to unleash the human spirit in the workplace. Founder of FAST Agile.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store