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Opportunities From Chaos

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Detroit down town

Detroit downtown

Louis Pasteur said, literally, that « luck only smiles to well-prepared minds ». Often, life does not happen as expected, and even though, you are prepared to deal with the unexpected, it is not impossible that you have to face the chaos.  What is precisely chaos?

There are few definitions of chaos, but in this present article, the following definition is the most appropriate. Chaos is a condition or place of great disorder or confusion.  And this disorder induces stress, a feeling for uncertainty or insecurity. The chaos is apprehended differently by each of us, and the induced stress is negative for some, and positive for others. Negative for some, because it is an unexpected change, the loss of references, the end of certainties. For others, it is the opportunity to build something new, to discover something new, to know oneself better. Yes, for some of us, chaos is a source of opportunities. It is only a question of mindset.

As freelance interim manager, I remember a colleague telling me the circumstances in which he became a freelance interim manager.  Working for several years for a multinational company, he was fired. It was the chaos for him, thinking that it would not be easy to find a new job. By contacting recruiters, one of them suggested to him to start a freelance interim manager, as he had a strong experience and background that can be valued in this kind of job.  When he started his first assignment, he came quickly to the conclusion that to be fired was probably the best thing that happened to him. Working as freelance interim manager was for him the opportunity to work on different assignments and so to have more diversity of work, the opportunity to learn faster and to build stronger skills. At this stage, the induced stress become positive by discovering a new challenge we are able to face, empowering our self-confidence.

Another example of chaos is the fall of the city of Detroit in the United States of America. Detroit was the capital of the automobile industry, “the Motor City” or “Motown”.  The 3 main cars brands, General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, located in Detroit, in addition to a relocation of their production since 1950, experience an unprecedented crisis.  The consequences are the loss of 400.000 jobs since 2008. In some neighborhoods, the unemployment rate reaches 50%. And last but not least, in 2013, with a debt of 18.5 billion of dollars, the city is asking for bankruptcy.  Public services are disappearing and criminality is spreading. Detroit becomes a ghost city. At this stage, Detroit has no choice that to reinvent another future. Detroit is suffering the inequalities between people are important, but people who stayed in town remains united and are creating innovating solutions.  One source of urban resilience is the development of urban agriculture on the abandoned land, providing fresh food for a low price. What people can’t by, they are producing themselves. It is also the starting point of the development of a local economy integrating social justice and solidarity for the most disadvantaged people.  Alongside these initiatives, some investors like Dan Gilbert, invest in real estate renovations and recreate attractive neighborhoods. Dan Gilbert, native from Detroit, decided also to relocate his ten or so companies and around 12.000 employees in Detroit, and is investing in start-up projects in order to rebuild an economical network.  There is still a lot of work to do, but here, chaos was the opportunity to rebuild a city based on another paradigm.

Chaos appears as something negative, of course because it is the result of an imbalance situation, but also because it seems to have no solutions to go out of this situation. But the cause of such perception is also a question of mindset. In the example of Detroit, the chaos has a negative impact on the people who certainly suffer from poverty, insecurity, the unpleasant environment of a ghost city. But chaos is perceived as negative in the way that failure would be definitive and that there would be no other alternative. Such perception results also from the end of certitudes and the questioning of a model.

In our complex society, change is not a variable….but a constant. And change and certitude are antithetical. Change means evolution, but evolution is not always linear. Change is not necessarily a projection of the past, but is sometimes a change of paradigm, a disruption. Change does not mean necessarily chaos if we don’t consider failure as definitive and fatal, but an opportunity to learn and to build new alternatives. Perpetual change makes that it is more and more difficult to predict the future, and it is probably also a cause of anxiety in the face of it.

But facing chaos is something we can learn from, if we see it as an opportunity to experience new things and probably to know a bit better about ourselves. It is in the adversity that we can really learn who we are, what we are able to do. Malcom X quote says nothing else: “There is no better that adversity. Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve your performance the next time.” We cannot really know who we are if we don’t face hard times, or negative experience that gives another look at things. Such experiences make us stronger if we take this as an opportunity to learn. It makes us stronger, “anti-fragile” as described by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his book of the same name. Antifragile is not the opposite of fragile. The opposite of fragile is unbreakable. If you drop a crystal glass on the floor, it will be broken, and this state will be different that the one before, but irreversible. If you do the same with a piece of metal, it will remain intact, in the same state, unbreakable. Anti-fragile is the stage when an object, or somebody, suffers a damage, so, changes of state but still reversible. A state where you keep track of a bad experience, but that makes you stronger because you learn from it. A state that triggers a process of resilience.

Chaos can make us stronger, more agile, and mostly if we can face it on a collective way. To come back to the example of Detroit, there are communities of people who decided that the falling of the city was not a fatality, but an opportunity to rebuild something new. They saw an opportunity to meet other people, to share knowledge, experience and skills, in order to build together a new project, a new vision of the future of the city. And knowledge, skills, are the only things each people have more than before when it is shared, contributing to empower our self-confidence. Chaos provides opportunities if we consider it as a catalyst that helps you get out of your comfort zone. It does not mean that chaos becomes something stressless, but induces a stress we have more control on, a stress inducing a positive energy to image and build new and innovative solutions.


Picture from Paul Barbieux (Brussels)


Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

March 25, 2019 at 07:57