Squeezing the Juice from Chaos


By Michael Knowles

Chaos: That state in which everything exists, and every possibility is but a blink away.

We’ve talked about working in chaotic organizations. Organizations are always in chaos. So why does one organization thrive while others self-destruct?


Structure captures the energy produced by chaos. Effective structures, essentially, invigorate and energize systems and organizations. Ineffective structures (and nonexistent ones) deenergize systems and organizations. The definition is a bit simplistic, but it’s workable for the purposes of our discussion.

In organizational terms, it turns out that communication is the transformative tool that helps people create effective structures. I’ll bet you didn’t realize you were IN organizational development, did you? You are, to some extent, if you practice communication, for what is communication but the interactive creation of effective structure?

There are six keys to building effective structures to squeeze the juice from chaos:

  1. You must know enough about structure to build a good one. Lack of knowledge about what constitutes an effective structure has killed many a novel, poem, essay, and company. Without his intricate knowledge of artistic structures, Picasso could never have created cubism. Without the grounding in classical, jazz, and blues composition, Frank Zappa could never have written his numerous orchestral works. When you lack the foundation that deep understanding of structure provides, only luck can help you.
    (Communicators can be the keepers of the structural keys. The hard part is staying out of the assigned role as “writer.” More on that in a future column.)
  2. You must realize that, sooner or later, chaos will render the structure obsolete, and you’ll have to build a new one. The beauty of understanding structure is that you’ll be able to build one that can be changed with changing conditions, or thrown out completely if need be.
  3. Like buildings in California, structures must be rigid enough to stand on their own with minimal maintenance, and loose enough to give when the earthquakes come.
  4. Key indicator: When things go entropic, it’s time to adjust the structure. Two signs of entropy are the collapse of belief systems and losing sight of what you do consistently well.
  5. Structures are built using the tools of communication.
  6. Sometimes you need substructures to contain varying chaotic elements. What you’d do to squeeze the juice out of a manufacturing department isn’t quite the same as what you’d do to squeeze the juice out of a marketing department. Six Sigma and other process management technologies have their place, but it’s not an effective structure for every condition.

There. I’ve had my rant for the week. If you’re interested in knowing what prompted it contact me!

Copyright © by Michael Knowles. All Rights Reserved.

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