Three ways I use the Chaos Map

I joke with my friends that the Chaos Map is part of my brain now – and they tell me I'm not joking. I indeed use the Chaos Map instinctually as a primary mental map. I continuously place ideas about people and social environments on it and mentally play with different strategies and insights for how my various maps of work, home, and other spheres could be more creative, harmonious, or stable.

Many people have asked me for practical examples of how to use the map. Since I use it so often (and usually abstractly in the lower right corner), it's hard to know where to start. So today, I'll share three ways it's helpful to me most often:

1: An upgrade to personality types

Understanding personality types was a significant upgrade to my mental model for understanding and relating to people. The categories gave me a way to see myself and others as less confusing, hostile, or ignorant than I'd previously suspected. Now I could think more charitably and productively about myself and others.

The problem is that personality types break down when more than two people are in view. Let's take MBTI, for example: if I'm an INTJ working with an ESTP, I may glean some useful tips for optimizing my collaboration with her. But if we add an ISTJ to the mix, it's complicated to work out how all three of us would optimally work together. Add a fourth, and there's no chance. The bi-directional limitation of personality is unfortunate because most productive collaboration involves more than two people.

The Chaos Map upgraded my personality typing model from a categorical taxonomy (e.g., INTP, type 9, etc.) to a spatial, motion-based map. To me, it's the difference between navigating using turn-by-turn instructions scribbled on a napkin and navigating with a GPS map.

The Chaos Map is a new surface to think on.

As an example, here's what I'd imagine the Chaos Map of the Beatles would look like:

The Chaos & Order of The Beatles

See that big gap between John and Paul? That spells trouble, yeah.

This upgrade from personality types to a mental map means I can now:

  • Gain insight into the relationships between three or more people
  • Gain quicker and more intuitive insights since I no longer need to hold complex categorical types and attributes in my working memory.

2: Spot people gaps

My team at Pathwright has known for a long time that we struggle with the more extroverted, relational activities of the business, including many aspects of sales and marketing.

When you look at our team's Chaos Map from the time when I first drew it, can you spot where we'd struggle?

Can you spot the gap?

Now we vaguely "felt" that gap and had an instinct for the type of person we'd need but had trouble finding anyone since we couldn't wrap our minds around what it was. 

Once we could visualize the gap, it helped us clarify the type of who we're looking for outside of personality types or job descriptions. Ultimately, we gleaned that we're looking for someone who moves like an arrow between relational chaos and relational order. A person who naturally moves in that way could pursue big picture relational potential while naturally guiding them into stable long term relationships. As they did so, they'd also build up reliable relational systems that enable us to scale and amplify productive relationships between more and more people. In short, we're looking for a community designer.

Secondly, identifying the nature of the gap helped us think more intentionally about how to fill it in the meantime. I  think of it as "taking a trip" into another way of working, which helps me understand why it feels stressful and that it's not a deficiency in what I uniquely bring to our team. Thinking spatially about it helps me have more agency over working within an unnatural place compared with before, where it felt like it was just happening to me.

3: Harmonize collaboration

Once we've mapped two or more people within a map, we can visualize and strategize about how they can best move together in harmony or conflict in any map.

For example, let's take a team's financial controller who likes to move systematically in the conceptual order. Now, plot the team's entrepreneurial business developer who prefers a chaotic, relational spiral motion. It's not hard to visualize the ways they might be baffled and anxious when working together.

Opposite places and motions

Let's look at a practical example of how this type of gap plays out in reality.

Our relational explorer wants to enthusiastically move forward on a deal where the deliverables aren't fully worked out. That's okay. That's the easy part (from his perspective). 

But then our orderly controller immediately puts the brakes on that nonsense. She wants everything we'll deliver to be crystal clear and up to code. 

The explorer objects that the enthusiasm and momentum are draining out of the deal in real-time the longer it's held up. Handshakes happened, friends were made, and excitement is high – why wait? 

The controller objects that explorer's unstructured optimism will no doubt lead to the destruction of the company if left unchecked.

And that's just one example. The most orderly thing your relational chaotic pattern maker can form will look like sheer disconnected chaos to your conceptual order operator.

While that insight likely wouldn't come as news to you, being able to visualize the gap between them is powerful because it opens up non-judgmental strategies for helping them create order from chaos together in harmony. For instance:

Strategy I: Come together

Strategy I: Come together

You could help your conceptual order preserver and chaotic relationship maker understand the difference in their points and motion, so they know that both of them will need to move towards each other and out of their natural place and motion. They'll know this will cause stress for both of them, but if they consciously do so, it will help them grow their range and create more harmony for everyone on the team.

If the Beatles had actually "come together" perhaps they wouldn't have split.

A three-fold cord isn't easilybroken.

Strategy II: Form a three-fold cord.

"And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him-a threefold cord is not quickly broken."
- Ecclesiastes 4:12, ESV

Better yet, you could add a third person to the mix —  someone in the middle using an arrow motion to edit down the chaos just enough to make it ready to integrate and optimize into the existing order. I've seen that putting a well fitted third person between a more orderly and chaotic pair can lead to products, companies, and relationships that are both unusually stable and creative — a rare and unbeatable combination.

In conclusion

Using the Chaos Map, I think we can reduce most systemic conflict to three explanations:

1. You or someone else is out of place or using the wrong motion for the map they're in.

2. People are positioned too far from one another, so there's no common ground.

3. The natural motion of one or more people in the same area conflicts. 

While the map won't tell us a solution, the ability to visualize where there are gaps or conflicts in the chaos and order of our relationships and concepts empowers us to orchestrate them into better harmony. 

I think that kind of harmony is one of the more meaningful patterns we can create for ourselves and everyone around us.

Each month, I write a short essay about the Chaos Map:

Thank you. Stay tuned for an introduction email.
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