Chaos often breeds life when order breeds habit. – Henry Adams
Chaos is often defined as something that produces disorder and confusion. It is generally perceived as a negative state of things and something to be avoided.
FEAR OF CHAOS
Recently, I gave a lecture to some local government middle managers on relevant systems. Their mayor was a first-time mayor who introduced many innovative practices to the city government and asked me to check up on observations that organic city managers were resistant to these new ideas. After conducting some exercises with them, I noticed that many of them relied on standard procedures or formulas in performing their tasks. I wanted to explore this apparent predilection for following set guidelines in almost everything they do. As a result, I made the officials participate in activities that removed them from their comfort zones by forcing them to do their normal tasks in unconventional ways. At the end of these exercises, many of the participants complained that they felt confused and uneasy. I asked them why they think they felt that way.
Some said they do not want to deviate from so-called standard procedures because it will open them to possible reprimand, sanctions, or worse legal consequences. Some of them said they want to do things the way things are normally done so that it would be “orderly”. Even when faced with situations that required different procedures, they really preferred to stick to the so-called “tried and tested’. In essence, they hated what they perceive as “chaos”. As a former city administrator, I have been a consultant for many local governments and I have seen this phenomenon in most city governments with newly minted city mayors. In fact, I have also recently observed this extreme aversion to perceived chaos even in many private organizations.
It must be admitted that rules and order as a default setting are still ideal in many situations. I respectfully submit that chaos, or seemingly disorderly thoughts or methods, can sometimes be useful and necessary. As such, people should not automatically fear or avoid chaos.
CHAOS THEORY APPLIED
There is a scientific and mathematical theory that was first introduced in the latter part of the 20th century called the chaos theory. Simply put, it emphasizes on the seemingly random, unpredictable, inevitability of surprises and nonlinear events. In many fields many practitioners of the theory simply want people to be open to these events and to prepare to adjust and adapt. They want people, especially managers, not to fear chaos but to embrace it as a means to positive things or opportunities. They see opportunity in chaos. In military tactics, one of the basic concepts officers adhere to is that no plan survives contact with the enemy.
I have seen some organization heads intentionally muddle their processes and organization to see if order arises from disorder. From a seemingly chaotic environment order sometimes rise after a chaotic critical mass is achieved. This presupposes however that there is someone at the top who will backstop or manipulate events and that there are middle or senior managers who will rise to take charge.
Our previous articles have dwelt a lot on the issue of food production. In recent think tank sessions, many agricultural experts point to the participation of local government agricultural extension workers as one of the keys to meeting food production goals and making government agriculture projects work. Agriculture is one of the national functions that have been technically devolved to the local governments.
For now, most of the efforts come from our national agencies. At the local government level, the three-year term of officials, the amount of new information needed to be downloaded, and the lack of trained personnel often force these extension workers to stick to so-called standard procedures such as seminars and assistance programs. With the ever-changing environment, the workers must be capacitated to adapt to the new normal to be trained to not fear new things, to embrace their fear of confusion and to actively engage. There are many programs that can be made available to these workers and other LGU extension workers in other devolved fields.
The most basic message which I submit that must be stressed to them is not to fear perceived “chaos” and new things. Perhaps, even at home, parents should not automatically punish kids with messy tables. Chaos can be a learning opportunity.
This is just my oblique observation.
Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in the foregoing article are solely the author’s and do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of the Philippine News Agency (PNA) or any other office under the Office of the Press Secretary.