Academic journal article Career Planning and Adult Development Journal

ORGANIZING SERENDIPITY: Four Tasks for Mastering Chaos

Academic journal article Career Planning and Adult Development Journal

ORGANIZING SERENDIPITY: Four Tasks for Mastering Chaos

Article excerpt

This article makes two key points. First, chaos theory offers evidence that the counseling interventions we have been using will work, but not in the ways that we might expect or when we hope they will take effect. Second, the article offers one way of organizing commonly applied intervention strategies into a model that can facilitate career development and decision making.

Life is not linear. Just when everything seems to be going pretty well for our clients, it all changes. Then again, when things are not going so well, it also changes. Our clients may feel as if they are sticks in a stream, floating one way, then another, sometimes drifting in a tranquil back eddy, other times crashing through the rocks with the current. The flow of circumstances that make up their careers, like the stream, seems to continue regardless of what they do. Sometimes it's a dribble; sometimes it's a rampaging river. Good fortune in their careers is apparently left to serendipity. They do not, however, need to be entirely adrift. This article proposes that there are patterns within the turbulence of our careers and that the actions we take do affect the way those patterns unfold. While good fortune in our careers may seem to be left to serendipity, we can organize that serendipity. The science of chaos helps us to understand how to structure that organizational process.

The developmental model presented here assumes that our career self-concept as a complex adaptive system depends on information to grow and adapt. If we shape the quality and quantity of information that reaches the complex adaptive system, the shape of the system can change. We understand from chaos theory that because of the butterfly effect, or sensitivity to initial conditions, the manner in which a system responds to information defies prediction, hence facilitating career development and decision making appears to be organizing serendipity.

For a definition of systems that we can utilize in our discussion of chaos theory I draw from Gell-Mann, when he writes: "[Complex adaptive] systems. ..take in information in the form of data stream and find perceived regularities in that stream, treating the rest of the material as random. Those regularities are compressed into a schema, which is employed to describe the world, predict its future to some extent, and to prescribe behavior for the complex adaptive system itself. The schema can undergo changes that produce many variants, which compete with one another." (p. 368)

Later in his text he adds, "Complex adaptive systems function best in a regime intermediate between order and disorder. They exploit the regularities provided by the approximated determinism.. .and at the same time they profit from the indeterminacies (describable as noise, fluctuations, heat, uncertainty, and so on), which actually can be helpful in the search for better schemata." (p. 369). Creativity, then, lives within the border between a system's order and disorder, or chaos. Therefore we need chaos to build a better schemata for our career self-concept, and we must rely on our capacity to find order within chaos if we expect to develop an agile and effective career self-concept.

A study of chaos reveals that, like a Zen Koan that defies a logical solution, there is no chaos, only non-linear order. Chaos theory is about order in the universe, not the disorder the name implies. Given time, and enough perspective, the order beneath the chaos emerges. Masterpasqua and Perna assert that discovering the order beneath the chaos can change our view of the world. "(Chaos) is a revolutionary new way of viewing the world, in that, once one sees through the turbulent mirror, one is transformed forever. The world can never be quite the same again. Yet this new world can be a gentler one, with vastly more creative potential." (p. 7)

Chaos science holds that human behavior is unpredictable in detail because of the complexity of the constant system-building process one experiences as a combination of genetics, environmental influences, and learned behaviors that combine to form a complex adaptive career self-concept. …

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