We tend not to like chaos. It’s in our make-up. We fight it where we can. In large companies, it messes with production, it increases variance, and, in general, creates a headache for the bureaucracy. And as we know, bureaucracy pounces on the smallest evidence of chaos, ready to fix it with standard operating procedures, rules, blame and punishment.
Some of this is good, otherwise there would be no stability and nothing of quality would get done. I am often confronted by my own irritation with my regular supermarket whenever there are changes to the store design and layout.
Subconsciously, I believe they do it deliberately to force me through all the aisles. I hate them for it, for messing up a good weekend shopping trip with the unnecessary inconvenience of searching for simple things like milk or bread. Don’t they get it? I choose a particular supermarket which has pretty much the same layout in all their stores. For me, it creates a zen-like calm, a feeling of coming home, with the certainty of finding things where they belong.
I also believe I am getting old.
The world around us is in chaos. Political upheavals, economic downturn and volatility and unbounded technology now threatening to replace us in our jobs. New company entrants are now bigger than 100-year old global conglomerates, with business models that could not even be imagined a few years ago. Our reality has surpassed science fiction, leaving many behind. Even our future looks chaotic!
What, you may ask, does all this have to do with entrepreneurship?
You see, chaos is part of the entrepreneur’s journey. The good news is that chaos is always replete with both opportunity and uncertainty.
As in the story of Hansel and Gretchel, when you find the first reliable path through a forest of chaos, it reduces uncertainty.
That first path creates the level stability people crave, leaving a trail of bread crumbs which can be followed. And then, almost of a sudden, chaos is no more. What is left is the trodden path, the trusted and ultimately, the beloved. (And, of course, a dead witch!)
One way to consider entrepreneurship is to select a portion of the chaos and transform it into order and stability. And right there, a problem previously faced by a market segment now has a trusted solution! A business model and plan is nothing more than describing how you will tame your selected portion of chaos into trusted order. Customer service and excellence starts with providing a (hopefully good!) consistent product or service.
But how do you create order?
1) It starts with boldness. Chaos has locked in it, fear of the unfamiliar and fear of failure. It takes guts to walk into a lair of chaos, look right at it, dead in the eyes and tame it into submission. Most people will ignore it, blame it on someone or complain about it. After chaos is tamed into order, people will follow a new path and wonder how they ever got along without it.
2) Chaos is not tamed without experimentation, failure and learning. In that order. Very seldom are we blessed with all the insight from the word go. (Wouldn’t that be nice?) The thing is, you have to experiment, fail, find out why you failed and try again, You have to test until you find the right solution. Somewhere in between all of that is enough cash flow to survive all these experimentation cycles, keeping your family together, handling admin, HR, and personal issues. No-one said it would be easy!
3) Taming chaos has some end-point in mind, not necessarily a path. As an entrepreneur, one needs some form of utopia in mind, a place you would feel comfortable to end. In other words, the future you’re selling as an entrepreneur. Getting there is no straight path. Often it cannot even be drawn with a straight line. It takes curves, loops, ups and the inevitable downs. However, having a general direction (the light at the end of the tunnel) to work towards is essential. At the very least, make sure you fail forwards, in the direction of your end-goal.
4) Taming chaos into order requires standardisation. That’s the whole point of establishing order. In our business, I’ve met so many entrepreneurs who simply get by, ‘managing’, not taming the same chaos day in, day out. Taming it means finding a solution, creating a template, standard operating procedure, a method, whether in a system or not. The moment you are able to tame chaos with standardisation, you can teach it to others and measure quality. When you’re able to teach it, others with less experience or skill can start to do it too. In an instant, you would have delivered consistent value with increasing efficiency, aka profit!
5) Allow for some chaos; it is where creativity and resilience live. Sometimes we can be so good at taming chaos that we there is no space allowed for creativity. Good creativity craves a bit of chaos. See, once we have established order, we are vulnerable to complacency. We need to remember that when we’ve conquered the mountain, a volcano may very well erupt and remove the mountain out from underneath us. By allowing some measure of chaos, or even introducing it through small changes, we remind ourselves of our vulnerability and strengthen our business by responding and adapting to these changes.
Every great entrepreneur gets a little uneasy with too much order. Every chaotic moment, dear entrepreneur, is your opportunity to get better at it.
The art of taming chaos is not only your gift to your client’s world. It’s a gift to yourself. Cherish it. Learn from it. Grow with it. Every single time.
Professor Willem Clarke CEO, Resolution Circle www.resolutioncircle.co.za