Managing in Chaos: A Necessary Skill for Managers and Leaders

The Forces of Chaos

The business landscape of the 21st Century is characterized by increasing complexity, disorder, intense competition, hyper speed pace of change, and above all, a 24/7 “always on” culture. This means that chaos is inevitable in such a landscape because of the confluence of all these factors.

Therefore, managers and leaders cannot but learn to manage chaos and embrace complexity if they and their organizations have to prosper and indeed, even survive. All the talk about creating flexible organizational structures and adaptable cultures is mainly to deal with the fast changing business environment where organizations and the leaders have to be agile and nimble footed to take advantage of opportunities.

Change is the Only Constant

Indeed, the fact that the only constant is change and that the only certainty is uncertainty in addition to the unpredictability of the future means that chaos becomes an integral part of every manager’s and leader’s life.

Consider for instance, the fate of the various cab services and travel operators who have been hit by competition from Uber, which is the app based car rental and taxi operator.

Given that Uber marries technology with flexible employment and sharing economy characteristics, it has been able to upend the existing companies in the business. This means that the managers and leaders of traditional car companies have to learn to cope with the “beautiful chaos” that is technology driven solutions and hence, must tailor their strategies accordingly.

Indeed, the fact that most traditional cab service companies are like “Deer who have been caught blinded in the glare of the lights” means that they were simply unprepared to deal with the unpredictability of the emerging collaborative economy where Smartphone based apps have unleashed “latent and potent” forces of “creative destruction” which have altered the marketplace completely.

Even Market Leaders Tend to Fail

Now consider the same technology companies in the business of making Smartphones. A decade ago, Blackberry was the only thing that came closest to a Smartphone and indeed, it was the proto company that rolled out what can be called the initial waves of the Smartphone revolution.

Now, does anyone know what has happened to Blackberry which except for corporate users relying on it for better security and safety does not have a mass consumer base as it did a decade ago when it was the undisputed leader in the industry?

Chaos Management

The reason why it failed is that as astute its leaders were about the marketplace, they were behind the curve when it came to recognizing the “chaos principle” of innovation, globalization, technology, and forces of entrepreneurship that characterize the modern marketplace.

Given that it is now possible for anyone anywhere to design an app and ensure that it has a mass following means that scale or the size of the business are no longer guarantees for longevity. The point that we are making is that technology and globalization together create forces that make everyone susceptible to being “Thrown under the onrush of technological change” and hence, even companies such as Uber that are now the reigning leaders in their business spaces cannot afford to remain complacent.

The Nervousness of the Leader

This “nervous” factor that the modern day business landscape unleashes means that managers and leaders no longer have the luxury of a leisurely approach to business and instead, must deal with the chaotic conditions that they encounter from the time they start their day or even when they are sleeping.

For instance, it is now routine for most people in the workforce to begin their day with the latest updates about whichever interests they have and for business leaders, it is mostly about stock updates, market movements, business trends, and latest developments in their industry.

Everything Happens at Once

It is quite possible that these leaders as they begin their day might have to deal with labour unrest in a far away country where their manufacturing facilities are located, or near home, they might have to deal with some contingency that threatens their sales targets, or even for that matter, a snowstorm or a blizzard that shuts down the city and hence, results in loss of precious time for their businesses.

Just imagine what would happen if all these events happened at once and place yourself in the shoes of a business leader and then you can realize how chaotic life can be and how demanding your career and job can be.

Indeed, if there is one advice that most business leaders these days offer to graduating students is that they must have powers of focus and concentration that would help them “filter away the noise” and “focus on what is essential and needed” and at the same time ensure that they are not swayed by the rush of chaotic trends and events which demand creative and well thought out solutions and responses.


Therefore, for anyone of you who is aspiring to work in the corporate world or are already there, this might seem obvious since no one is really away from this chaos. However, the important point to note is that it is one thing to view these events in a dispassionate manner and it is altogether another thing to be the decision maker in the “hot seat” in the midst of all this turmoil.

In conclusion, the ones who are most likely to succeed are the ones with a “firm grip on the present, a solid understanding of the past, and a vision for the future” which means that they are able to look behind, look ahead, and not fall off the present to ensure that they indeed, “thrive in chaos”.

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