When order moves to chaos

Who to listen to when order moves to chaos

Optimal maps flow harmoniously from right (chaos) to left (order).

An optimal map — a product, team, a culture — is stable and creative. In it, we move chaos to order in perfect harmony.

Some of us make discoveries.

Others shape discoveries into plots and plans.

More people use these plans to improve our daily lives while keeping everything stable and safe.

Of course, there's no perfect map. Discoveries go unmade, and our best-laid plans go awry. Even our most reliable systems grow inflexible and outdated. Our work and life are full of thorns and setbacks in the best of times.

But ordinary hardship seems like the good times when our map suddenly flows in reverse.

Destruction: When order flows towards chaos.

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.

The individual order of our lives collapses through personal loss, disease, and death.
Our collective order collapses under natural disaster, pandemic, and war.
But while chaos within order destroys it by definition, good can still come from it.
In this series of posts, I'll share three perspectives to take heart from even if the order around us strains and breaks.

Like the protagonists of The Big Short, there are always a few oddballs who see disaster coming before anyone else. We might call them intuitive, lucky, or prophetic. Accordingly, most people ignore them until it's too late. We're too preoccupied with the order of our world — our families, friends, task lists, and Netflix.

Why don't more people listen? We can use the Chaos Map to visualize two reasons we ignore the more prophetic among us:

1) Different time perspectives

Most people live well within the order of our maps, and that's a good thing. It takes a lot of energy to preserve our complex systems of government, industry, and society.

The gold dots represent the gravity points of people. Most of us spend our time well within the past, present, and near future.

For order to function well, it must rely on generational memory: what worked before and still works now is likely to work in the future. So most of us have trouble understanding anything that we, our parents, or our grandparents haven't experienced. And as we grow older, we're naturally more inclined to preserve and propagate generational wisdom.

Amid the COVID-19 epidemic, I think this is one reason why we see so many older folks who are most at risk yet slowest to change their routine.

2) Different altitude perspectives

Another reason that most of us ignore prophetic warnings is that they sound remote, vague, or unreliable.

Let's flip the Chaos Map sideways to consider why:

People at the top (towards chaos) see the bigger picture but without a clear or practical view.

Those of us who gravitate towards order have an up-close, practical perspective on how things work. But in exchange, our vision is narrow. The patterns around or above our view of reality seem peripheral, so we ignore them.

In contrast, those of us who gravitate towards chaos have a bird's eye view of everything below us. We tend to see past, present, and future patterns collapsed into one big picture. We see patterns of patterns. But in exchange, we miss the intricate, practical details of just about everything and lose touch with the reality most people live within.


So what do we do with these different perspectives of time and distance? I'll suggest two things:

First, whenever we enter uncharted territory – like a pandemic – it's hard to know who's predictions of the future to rely on. In these extreme situations, I'd argue that we're better off tuning out the established media or government organizations. Instead, listen to informed specialists who's forecasts of the future seem directionally correct but have been mostly ignored. People like Bill Gates, for example.

Second, when we anticipate a future that the more orderly folks we care about are slow to adopt, how can we persuade them? I'd suggest that we need to zoom into their perspective by appealing to stories, authority, and practical action:

  • Stories: When we lack a generational memory of a potential reality, only visceral stories can effectively fill the gap. So let's start with authentic, compelling stories.
  • Authority: Tradition and authority live side-by-side on the order side of the map. So the more we manage to back up our views with "facts" shared by those in trusted authority, the more success we'll have.
  • Practical action: Vague warnings – no matter how believable – have little impact on most of us. But the more orderly among us excel at applying concrete steps.

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

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