Beautiful Ruins: How Chaos Can Increase Innovation

There are libraries full of management and leadership books stressing the importance of organization and the power of discipline, but one author is taking a different approach.

Consultant and author Ori Brafman would like to put in a word for confusion and disorder. In his new book, The Chaos Imperative: How Chance and Disruption Increase Innovation, Effectiveness, and Success, written with Judah Pollack, he argues that chaos can be a good thing, creating “white space” that we fill with new people and new ideas.

In our corporations, in other organizations in our communities, and in our personal lives, we strive to minimize chaos, with all its unpredictability and uncertainty. By definition, chaos is the enemy of organization. We’ve sat in meetings where a lack of defined processes has led to interminable wasted hours and negligible results. We’ve seen the footage of chaos unleashed throughout the world, such as the thousands of homeless people in Haiti after the earthquake. We tend to confront chaos as if it were an unruly beast -something to be contained as much as possible….

But what if there’s another side to chaos? A benefit — something about chaos that can actually help us be more effective? Something in its greater variability, its absence of rigid structure, and its lack of a clear purpose that can lead to revolutionary, as opposed to evolutionary, change? There is a paradox at the heart of chaos. For all the destructive power of the chaos unleashed by the Black Plague, it turned out to be the crucible in which the modern Western world was forged. We’re going to see a similar pattern emerging again and again: Chaos creates white space, which in turn allows unusual suspects to sweep in. The result is a kind of organized serendipity, or what I call contained chaos. It may seem magical and bizarre that the Renaissance came about so quickly after the plague. But we’ll see that it was not a random event: the conditions had been created to enable and even accelerate serendipity.

Excerpted from The Chaos Imperative: How Chance and Disruption Increase Innovation, Effectiveness, and Success, by Ori Brofman and Judah Pollack. © 2013 Crown Business.

Convene Editors