When Order Moves to Chaos

When the Chaff Burns Away

Chaos refines and strengthens the order of our lives. Small doses of chaos keep order healthy – like controlled burns keep forests healthy.

But when war, disease, or economic collapse engulfs order, it feels like hell on earth.

Even then, we can see a silver lining: the tyrannical order that's choked innovation for decades burns away like chaff.

Amidst tragic destruction, resilient order remains, and open space fills with new patterns that might have taken decades to emerge.

In this essay, we'll explore perspectives on what survives and thrives when the old order collapses.

Resilient order

The stronger and deeper a tree's roots, the healthier its leaves. Similarly, the more honestly and deeply we understand ourselves, the more we thrive in the relational world.

What we achieve inwardly will change our relationship ot the outside world.

We grow deep roots by confronting the hidden things about ourselves: our deepest hopes and fears, our troubled pasts, and our place in the grand scheme of things. The more we understand, accept, and grow our self-concept, the more nourishing we show up for others in the world.

"What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality."
- Plutarch


Communities — even entire civilizations — come to life around deeply rooted people rooted in powerful concepts.

But when chaos appears, it's too late to grow deeper roots. As the Chinese Proverb says, "The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now."

What roots do you need to grow deeper now?


Emergent order

The tyranny of order in decline stifles new, better ideas. Eventually, the smallest optimizations wither under committees, bureaucracy, and incompetence. 

When the old, fragile order finally crumbles, new order forms in its place. 

But where will the new order come from? 

New order rarely comes from within our established institutions like government, academia, or organized religion. Even good order serves to enable, not to actualize, innovation.

Innovation emerges from the middle of our maps. The middle contains ideas forged from chaos that aren't fully formed or implemented at a large scale. Concepts in the middle of our cultural maps include first-principle thinking, the spirit of the law, and mimetic theory.

New order emerges from the middle of our maps.

An good example of middle-of-the-map thinking is Clayton Christianson's "jobs to be done" framework (JTDB). While most organizations define their value by the goods and services they offer, JTBD focuses on the deeper, less conscious needs people actually "hire" products and services to meet.

For instance, if the 20th-century railroad tycoons had realized they weren't in the railroad industry, but in the transportation industry, they might have had the foresight to invent something like the automobile instead of getting bankrupted by someone else's invention of it.

Can you articulate the underlying human needs you meet for the people around you?


Overnight success

When a performer, author, or organization suddenly reaches a critical mass of popular awareness, headlines declare an "overnight success."

We naturally love this kind of story because we like to think that, perhaps one day, we, too, could wake up to find that our dreams had suddenly come true.

Many people who peddle a faster path to success perpetuate the overnight myth, including most venture capitalists, multi-level marketers, MBA programs, and social media influencers. (It may be helpful to note that myth-peddlers are often oblivious to what they're doing: as Upton Sinclair said, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.")

If we look behind any lasting success, we'll see years – even decades – of toil, failure, and iteration.

But during these rare times in history where the old order suddenly collapses, deeply-rooted, emergent innovation may spring into the open space "overnight."

An "overnight" successs.


What emerging order are you working to create?

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

Thank you. Stay tuned for an introduction email.
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