Academic journal article College and University

Managing Chaos

Academic journal article College and University

Managing Chaos

Article excerpt

"It's snowing still," said Eeyore gloomily.

"So it is."


"Is it?"

"Yes," said Eeyore. "However," he said, brightening up a little, "we haven't had an earthquake lately." (Milne 1928)


...and your new normal. It is overwhelming, overextended, fast-paced, foggy, and frantic. And make no mistake: It is the new normal. You must accept this and rise to the occasion. Otherwise, you will give up or constantly seek greener grass through new employment. Chaos has come to organizations in all sectors-private, government, and academic. Yet even Eeyore could see through the fog and have a good day at times. If he could, then you can. There is always something to do that is purposeful, and that is something to be grateful for.

Welcome to the new world-"the Internet of things"- or "everything is moving fast with no time to be sure that we are done." This is the 21st century-crm, nsa, "wired," Caprican, post-financial, meltdown economy. It has brought more of the vague, the unknown, and the uncertain, and with it a pace unknown in recent decades- and one that carries with it considerable risk. Welcome to chaos. Life has gotten messy.

The risk-moving at a pace that exceeds your organizations abilities-is inherent in all decisions and practice. You may try to avoid risk, but oh, you must grab ahold of this beast right now or else continue to suffer in the unknown, unproductive world of work that is never finished and continually mounting. Let us remind you again (though we are fairly certain you have heard this many times): It is not whether risk exists but whether it is managed that matters. The problem is no longer whether you can avoid chaos; it is whether you can learn how to thrive in it.

Managing chaos is hard and risky, but not managing chaos is much worse. If you choose to embrace the current paradigm, it can be filled with opportunity, excitement, and numerous rewards. But it is not for the faint of heart. You must be confident, strong, methodic, and deliberate. You must be willing to constantly change your work and plans as new information is presented. You must dive in and attack. If you fail to, your staff will be underwater by the lunch hour. But if you succeed (and we believe you can), then it is a golden opportunity for you to shine and for the weak to fall away. The opportunity for field promotion during the battle with chaos is enormous.

What are the odds that you will actually change and embrace the chaos ? They are low. Human beings are quite risk averse. But doesn't it sound like more fun to crash a Corvette than to drive a Yugo through life? Can you even call the safe path a life-or one you want to live ?

Teddy Roosevelt (1899) said, "Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure...than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat." Roosevelt lived a phenomenal life, and you can too. Managers, it is time to live. It is time to really manage. It is time to assume risk, to lead, and to earn your pay.

We have spent much time in previous articles describing tools (white papers, charters, plans, etc.) to help you organize and manage. Now we offer more qualitative guidance.


Before we describe the first steps toward managing a better you and a better office, we want to briefly revisit the 'illusion of catching up,' which we discussed several articles ago. It is a fallacy to think that one day you will get caught up with your work and that your life will get back to normal. Chaos is the new normal. There is no one project, one stressful semester, or one new hire that, once completed, will suddenly return you to a less stressful, slower-paced time. Recall the following all-too-common statements:

* "That project will have to wait until I catch up. …

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