In a nutshell, chaos is the behavior of a system when it’s unpredictable. The interesting thing about chaos is that it will start from an ordered system and it will follow simple rules. Understanding how chaos created will help you realize in which conditions you are turning a group of people from order into chaos.
Simple systems have simple rules or logic that create predictable behavior of the system. A Simple system has predictable behavior over a long period of time. Periodic behavior can have multiple components or cycles, but they are predictable. The components will repeat themselves using predictable logic. In a chaotic system, periodicity and known logic go away. Instead, there is a different behavior over time that never repeats itself. Therefore, it’s unpredictable and unknown.
The best way to understand order, chaos, predictability, and periodicity is by using a simple example from the world around us. One of the best ways to understand chaos is a water mill made of buckets with holes in the bottom of the bucket.
When applying water on the wheel, water will fill the bucket under the flow and as a result, the entire wheel will move in one direction. As the bucket moves one direction, the water filling the next bucket while the filled bucket loses water from the holes in its bottom. This behavior will cause the wheel to move at a known pace as long as the water force is the same.
If we’ll take care of atrophy of the wheel and the buckets, we can predict how the wheel will behave four thousand years from now. This is a simple system with one component of periodicity.
If we’ll put water with more pressure, we’ll have more efficiency as the wheel will move faster. But, in some point, the water won’t have enough time to leave the buckets. Therefore, the wheel will reach a balance, stop and move the other direction. After a while, the condition of water leaving the buckets will return and the wheel will move back in the original direction. As long as the force of the system stays the same, the wheel will move in two periods. The system will still be predictable, as those two periods will repeat themselves again and again.
If we put the water with more pressure on the two periodic systems, the wheel will double the states and it will have four periods. As more water pressure will apply on the wheel, the wheel will double the periods again and again. The behavior of the system will still be predictable, there are just going to be more and more periods. In some level of pressure of water on the wheel something strange will happened.
In some pressure, the wheel will change directions, but without returning the previous periodic behavior. It will move in a different direction with no ability to predict how the wheel will behave in the future. When the wheel starts to change directions without repeating previous states, the system entered chaos. The system is unpredictable.
You can see the chaotic behavior describe above in this video :
So how this apply to people and groups. Organization applies a certain level of information flow and tasks to any group in the organization. Like the wheel, an organization will continuously try to increase the flow of information and tasks to groups. It’s increasing efficiency. But any group is like a wheel. In some pressure instead of creating more states, it will move into chaotic behavior that will negatively impact the performance of the group. At that point in time, the behavior of the group will be hard to predict by people inside or outside the group. I’m sure that you saw this behavior of groups in your career.
If you have any control over the flow of information and tasks impacting a group, you can reduce the amount of information or tasks and return the group back into a periodic behavior. If the pressure comes from sources out of your control (competitors, customers, legislation, etc.), the only effective solutions that I’m aware of are buffers. Creating buffers can hold the system in periodic behavior, giving time to adjust to the new conditions without experiencing chaos.
Some people will stress the system into the last level that it was stable, they stop when they see chaos. But instead of decreasing the pressure from the system (which they believe is counter efficiency) they are looking for ways to fix the system with the current load. In reality, they are already experiencing the chaotic behavior of the system. To get things back on track, it is necessary to return the system back to periodic behavior, prepare it to deal with more load and just after that increasing the load again.