23 Feb

Unleashing Chaos?

Posted by admin Categories: Uncategorized

According to newspaper reports Tory MP Nick Boles, David Cameron and Nick Clegg want to “unleash ‘chaotic’ effects across the community” and Mr Boles himself “is enthusiastic about the advantages of chaos.” This prompts the question: do they have any significant understanding of chaos and its effects? 

The mathematics of chaos tell us that out of chaos a new order will emerge – but the nature of this new order is highly unpredictable. While I applaud the government’s interest in dismantling the bloated state bureaucracies I am concerned that they appear to be so blithely ready to create chaos and welcome its unpredictable effects on British society. 

One concept used within chaos science is the notion of the Edge of Chaos. This refers to a spectrum of behaviours whereby species have evolved and survived or perished over millennia. At one end of the spectrum, there is stability and little or no change and at the other end there is instability and too much change: chaos. Evolution teaches us that any species that exists at either extreme will not survive for long. Successful species have learnt to balance somewhere in the middle. This concept can be applied to organisations. Put crudely, the giant bureaucracies exist at the stable end and the shambolic dot coms exist at the chaotic end.  Sadly it appears that the Coalition is trying to push organisations (and thus society) rapidly towards the chaotic extreme. This may be no bad thing – if you actually understand how the spectrum works. The danger is that by introducing too many changes too quickly they will precipitate organisations deep into the chaotic zone – and that means disaster!

The science of chaos is complex and complicated and can only be properly understood by years of serious study. I have spent almost 20 years working in the field yet I would tread rather more carefully. How long have the leaders of the Coalition and Nick Boles spent working with these ideas, such that they so confidently proceed?

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