[originally posted August 8, 2006]

"Everything was going to plan, then we added people to the mix" - anon

Murphy's law: if anything could go wrong, it probably will vs. Citizen Agency's law: if anything could go wrong, it probably will, but it will be something you never thought of...so stop worrying about it and embrace the chaos.

I'm reading an amazing new book by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstram, The Starfish and the Spider, which discusses what I believe is the future of business: leaderless, decentralized organizations. We've seen, first hand, how significant the difference is between Starfish and Spider organizations, when we compare conferences (and unconferences) to the movement of BarCamp.

There is noone in control when it comes to BarCamp. It is just an idea in the wild. It changes and morphs with every location it takes place...follows the desires and whims of the organizers and participants. Like the Apaches that are mentioned in the book, even these groups are temporary, decentralized and spontaneous. There is no set schedule or hard and fast rules. People walk in and there is a blank slate. The event emerges from there.

In the past year + a couple of months, BarCamp has spread to almost all continents and taken place (well) over 70x in over 50 locations 1,000x in over 500 locations. The only camps organized by the original founders have been the local Bay area ones plus the first Amsterdam camp.

But, even though BarCamp has been something instantly recognized around the world by thousands, it is still a very difficult concept to handle by many. As Ori discusses in the book: decentralized organizations have been around and prospered for thousands of years, yet, when the idea is presented to a group of business professionals, it is nearly impossible to grasp the idea of a leaderless organization.

So why chaos? What will embracing chaos do for you?

  1. Simple. It will prepare you for anything.

    Imagine trying to prepare for every single outcome possible. It would drive you batty. Waste your time. And you would probably miss the one thing that eventually goes wrong. One of my good friends does contingency planning. She is really, really good at what she does. She takes her clients through various disaster scenarios to prepare them. But she would probably tell you that the most airtight contingency plan couldn't possibly cover every angle. On their homepage, it says: "You can't predict...you can prepare."

    I'm not 100% sure of how she prepares you, but I'm pretty certain part of it is to help their clients embrace chaos and act quickly.

  2. It will prevent you from making assumptions. (Assume = ass out of u and me)And open mind is a mind that is prepared for learning and discovering.
  3. It will reduce your stress levels.I watch so many people using up so much energy on worrying about what could go wrong. I wonder what would happen in a REAL crisis?
  4. It will open new doors.When you try to control the situation too much, you limit possibilities. FOO Camp rocks, but look what happened when BarCamp mirrored the format and opened it up? A whole new beautiful event emerged.

    We watch people start to trust their communities all of the time (actually, we prescribe it) to amazing results. I've always believed that if you trust people, they will more than likely impress you rather than let you down.

  5. It will allow you to fail gracefully.And, dammit, you SHOULD fail. Fail early and fail often. If you don't take risks and you don't fail, you will never learn much. Scott Berkun talked about this in his myths of innovation talk at FOO this year. Businessweek had a cover story on it this summer. Harvard has a whole department of study on it. The Colonel tried to sell his recipe something like 14,000 times before KFC was born. The Post-It pad was a result of a massively failed new glue.

    Scientists know that every failure is one step closer to finding the answer. I always ask myself when I'm worrying, "What is the worst thing that could happen?" Answer: this doesn't work out. So?

  6. It will allow you to be utterly agile.If failure isn't an option and you invest so much time into making something air tight, it will be that much harder to realize that you need to change and/or let go of a project or situation. Imagine how liberating the feeling of agility can be when you hit a wall.

There are even more advantages to embracing the chaos that we can see in our work with our clients. We watch them become excited again about what they are doing. When you feel the fear and "do it anyway" (who was that? Tom Peters?), it can give you a feeling akin to riding a rollercoaster or skydiving. Coming out alive on the other side is even more elating.

I challenge every one of you to go out, do something uncharacteristically chaos-embracing, then blog about how it made you feel and what happened as a result of it. It can be as simple as going to a concert by yourself and striking up a conversation with the people next to you, or as involved as throwing your own BarCamp.