The Chaos Map is a visual tool for navigating the chaos of life, work, and relationships. This guide summarizes each concept (or watch the 7-minute introduction.)
Each month, I write an essay mapping an idea on the the Chaos Map:
The map is the relative border around any real or imaginary domain that humans move within: for example, a workplace, a family, a culture — anything.
A pattern connects discovered & understood possibilities into reliable, useful systems. The more connected the pattern, the more useful and predictable it becomes.
Order is the increasingly useful and intricate patterns of connected possibilities on the left side of a map. These patterns make order safe, powerful, and predictable.
Chaos is the increasingly disconnected possibilities on the right side of a map. The lack of patterns makes chaos dangerous, exciting, and wild.
Like the God of the Hebrew Bible, humans transform chaos into order. We discover untested and vague opportunities within relationships and concepts and tame them into repeatable, useful patterns.
When we bring chaos to order, we feel a deep sense of meaning or purpose. We feel it when we learn something new, mend a relationship, clean up our room, and create art.
Our need to find meaning through pattern-making is so fundamental that we even experience it secondhand when we watch others bring chaos to order in real life or fiction.
We all bring chaos to order but have a unique gravitational pull more towards one side or the other.
Those of us drawn to the chaos side of a map are most stimulated by undiscovered, vague, and open-ended possibilities and quickly tire of things already worked out.
We’re prone to feeling hedged in by even the most useful structures and may have a more difficult time following rules and norms. And when things become too routine, we can't help but invite in some chaos to keep things interesting.
While we can understand orderly, known patterns, we’re less inclined to create or use them. Instead, we're more likely to replace a functional system with a partially articulated experiment than to work within the established order.
Most of us are most comfortable with the reliable and accepted, so we gravitate towards the order side of a map. We prefer to preserve and use established patterns formed from our own experience, trusted people, and time-tested tradition.
We’ll incrementally optimize the order when it makes good sense but will resist replacing or ignoring what already works with something that only might work.
We typically value social hierarchies and norms and are at our best within routines – or at least when we have rules for how to act in any circumstance life might throw at us.
Some of us prefer the space between order and chaos. We explore the unknown and use the well-known. We'll dive into chaos in one moment and fall back into tradition the next.
New possibilities spark our attention, but we'll quickly move them across the map to contrast and try them out within known patterns.
We don’t usually probe too far into either side of the map. We seek to preserve – but optimize –the existing order and to reshape and edit down the chaos around us.
Our dizzying disposition can be at once confusing, frustrating, and helpful to those to the left or right of us in a given map.
The relational world is formed from felt patterns between people and things. These real-world, mimetic patterns tend to be emotionally-charged, immediate, and are where all the action happens.
The conceptual world is made of patterns between abstract concepts. These below-the-surface patterns are only partially conscious and formed from solitary feeling and thought. Yet, they seem to reflect and support the activities within the relational domain above it.
Not only will we prefer more or less chaos or order in a given map, but we'll also gravitate more towards making relational or conceptual patterns.
Those of us who gravitate towards the relational world prioritize weaving patterns of friendship, reciprocity, and culture.
We'll enjoy working to organize, motivate, and interact with people in the real world and are likely to pursue work in teaching, parenting, management, service, and care.
Those of us more at home within the conceptual world are interested in the underlying patterns that influence people up in the relational world. But we'll prefer to observe them at a distance, under the surface.
We'll enjoy working with systems, mental models, and principles. As such, we're more inclined to choose careers that afford us lots of time to think – fields like science, art, and accounting.
An actor is an individual, group, or concept represented within the map.
Our gravity point is the place in any map we gravitate around and feel stress when too far from.
We move all over the maps we live in all the time. But we can identify our optimal place in any map by plotting where we gravitate between chaos and order and within the relational or conceptual worlds.
We can sense when we're in our gravity point when we feel continually satisfied and energized.
When we're too far from our gravity point, we feel stress or boredom.
Moving outside of our gravity point for a little while is critical and helps us learn (learning theorists call it our “zone of proximal development.”)
But if we stay away for too long, we’ll become dissatisfied and burn out before reaching our full potential.
Over time, we develop useful patterns from the chaos around our gravity point.
But if we retreat into these tried-and-true patterns too often, they become rigid and brittle.
On the other hand, if we stay too much within the chaos around our gravity point, our stable foundation erodes, and we become unstable and unreliable.
So, to fulfill our innate drive to transform chaos into order, we must move between the two continuously.
Our resolution point indicates where we resolve the patterns we take up in the chaos around our gravity point.
Our resolution point indicates how integrated the patterns we use or create are within the map's existing order and whether or not the patterns are conceptual or relational.
For example, some of us will conceptualize relationships by noticing some amount of relational chaos and then working it out quietly within the conceptual domain. Caretakers, counselors, and poets often adopt this motion.
Others will “relationalize” concepts by taking a chaotic conceptual pattern and working it out by trying them within real-world relational patterns.
Analysts, scientists, and inventors exemplify this motion.
And of course, some are tuned to relational patterns and like to work them out while staying within the relational domain, a motion preferred by people in human services, sales, or cult leaders. And others are so at home to the conceptual domain and like to work out the orderly patterns under the surface as well — a motion preferred by bookkeepers, analysts, and classic academics.
An arrow motion, represented as a straight line, visualizes shaping and editing chaos to fit cohesively within existing orderly patterns. Those of us who use this motion tend to be pragmatists and optimizers who keep one foot firmly entrenched in known patterns and another in newer, chaotic patterns with a core drive to make them all fit together in a way that “makes sense” or is as it “should be.” If someone’s needed to create or follow through on a 1-2-3 type of sequence relationally (e.g., driving a sale to close or social planning) or conceptually (e.g., accounting or systematic theology), we're the right person for the job.
Those who use an arrow motion tend to come across as more traditional than a if we prefered a spiral motion. On the chaos side of the map, we’ll respect tradition enough to optimize it with new ideas. On the order side, we’ll value it enough to try and preserve it, fighting off the entropy or chaos that might destroy it.
While we can explore some amount of chaos like anyone else, we’re prone to be continually looking back over our shoulder at the existing order to see where the new pattern might fit. Because of this, the order we create tends to be more readily adoptable but perhaps not as original than if we used a spiral motion.
A spiral motion, rendered by a spiral line, represents a preference for expansively or thoroughly navigating patterns without getting too distracted by how they may or may not connect with known, orderly patterns.
The spiral motion has the advantage of tuning out everything except for what's currently sparked our attention. This makes us them very flexible towards most everything and strangely rigid about whatever we're focused on or have already mapped.
Those of us who use the spiral motion aren’t traditional because tradition requires following the established, well-tested patterns formed in past generations.
A spiral on the chaos side of a map excels at mapping a landscape for new discovery and is used by the most brilliant inventors, nutty professors, and cult-like gurus. On the order side, the spiral motion is unmatched at quickly navigating a seemingly random set of established — but unrelated — patterns with uncanny speed and precision, exemplified by emergency workers, day traders, mechanics, police, and event hosts. A spiral motion within the traditional order enables using it with precision, but not following it like a script which leads to unsystematic – but often surprisingly effective – thinking or action.
A spiral motion in the middle is confusing. It has a unique ability to jump between highly practical, routine concerns and insightful, unexpected possibilities without missing a beat.
The spiral motion's less systematic approach and willingness to throw away work means that many of the patterns people who use it create or use don’t necessarily build upon or even connect to the existing order. Relationships with us may seem sporadic, projects may get left unfinished, and we'll probably show up late. In exchange, our ability to tune out all existing patterns outside of our current orbit helps us navigate whatever part of the map they’re in with a strange mix of speed, flexibility, and precision.
Once we map the chaotic, orderly, relational, and conceptual parts of any human system — our workplace, community, family, country, etc. — we gain clarity and insight.
By visualizing our gravity point, resolution point, and natural motion, we can identify where we fit in best and where there is potential for conflict and paths to growth in any map.
Since we find meaning by making and using patterns in our own way, perhaps the most meaningful exercise we can do for ourselves and others is to discovering and optimizing just the right balance.
Unlike most personality systems, it’s possible to map the points and motion of two or more people within a map and then visualize and strategize about how they can best move together in harmony or conflict in any map.
While the Chaos Map won’t hand us a solution to a particular insight, our ability to visualize where there are gaps or conflicts within the chaos and order of our lives empowers us to orchestrate a more creative and stable harmony for ourselves and everyone around us.
A dive below the surface to explore the mysterious, hidden conceptual world.
A guide to various types of relational order leading to the edge of chaos.
A futile attempt to describe the expressive, unstructured world of relational chaos.
Three lessons I learned from a deep read of On Writing Well.
A two-minute introduction and seven illustrated meditations from Man's Search for Meaning.
An exploration of the social norms and power structures that order our relationships.
While much of our self-concept forms from mimetic connections with others, the most transformative connections come from connecting profound concepts to our relationship to ourselves.
Our identity and worldview are shaped more by others than ourselves.
How the strange and wonderful relational world generates human progress, art, and moves in harmony or war with its conceptual roots.
How order fails even in good times, why we need sacrificial leaders, and what makes order tyrannical.
When order suddenly moves to chaos, our social fabric and systems formed over generations strain and break. Worse, we lack reliable patterns to employ as we attempt to repair the wrecked order we know and love.
I use the Chaos Map as a mental surface to think about all kinds of things on. In this short essay, I'll share three ways I've found it most useful that I hope are helpful to you as well.
A 7-minute flyover of The Chaos Map that briefly covers each component. It's just enough for most people to start asking questions, but probably not enough to answer them.