Essays

Chaos Theory and Change Management

The words “change management” intuitively presents us with an oxymoron. How can we really manage what is inherently unpredictable? Western civilization has another phrase for this. It’s called “shit happens.” However, if we reverse engineer any of the great, cataclysmic events of the last two centuries, we find they always had a genesis in something that someone should have identified! Think about the Attack on the Twin Towers, the meltdown of Fukushima, or the global pandemic of COVID-19. Each event started because human beings overlooked what was not only possible, it was probable.

            Chaos Theory was the fourth major scientific revolution. The others were Newton’s classical mechanics, Einstein’s theory of relativity, and Bohr’s and Schrödinger’s quantum mechanics. We don’t need a swami’s crystal ball to predict your problem. What we need is a better radar that scans and identifies such problems. That and a little common sense.

            At the heart of Chaos Theory is the so-called “butterfly effect.” The metaphor here is that the gentle beating of a butterfly’s wings in the Amazon becomes magnified through a series of steps into a Category 5 hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico. I am not going to give you the Ted Talk on how that happens. It is much easier to predict the more mundane change events that can occur in your organization.

            The words “change management” intuitively presents us with an oxymoron. How can we really manage what is inherently unpredictable? Western civilization has another phrase for this. It’s called “shit happens.” However, if we reverse engineer any of the great, cataclysmic events of the last two centuries, we find they always had a genesis in something that someone should have identified! Think about the Attack on the Twin Towers, the meltdown of Fukushima, or the global pandemic of COVID-19. Each event started because human beings overlooked what was not only possible, it was probable.

            Chaos Theory was the fourth major scientific revolution. The others were:

  1. Newton’s classical mechanics

  2. Einstein’s theory of relativity

  3. Bohr’s and Schrödinger’s quantum mechanics

  4. Chaos Theory

  5. Change management 

 

            We don’t need a swami’s crystal ball to predict your problem. What we need is a better radar that scans and identifies such problems. That and a little common sense. At the heart of Chaos Theory is the so-called “butterfly effect.” The metaphor here is that the gentle beating of a butterfly’s wings in the Amazon becomes magnified through a series of steps into a Category 5 hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico. I am not going to give you the Ted Talk on how that happens. It is much easier to predict the more mundane change events that can occur in your organization.