Learning to Organize with Chaos

Ideaconnection Interview with Joseph Roevens' 4th Year Students, "Organize with Chaos Change Unit:"
By Vern Burkhardt
"The practical challenge for any executive today is not so much to try and eliminate chaos, but to learn to understand and use it strategically as a vital, creative resource. In times of chaos, values come before vision."

Vern Burkhardt (VB): As members of the Organized with Chaos Change Unit Program at NHTV in Breda, you are a “virtual community of interest” with your website and discussion group. Is it a useful way to learn and explore new ideas?

studentsInge van Schijndel: It’s very useful; it’s not usual. We interact and learn from each other, we can enter our information whenever it's convenient, and it’s always available. Through this process we can collaborate and share ideas.

Our collaboration is usually about what, why, and how. What is the feedback you received from the other students, why did they give you that feedback, and how did you implement the feedback in your assignment. Students are involved in what is called "Virtual Action Learning," and a lot of the assessment by professors is based on the quality of feedback students give each other. At the end the professors go over the feedback students receive from each other to determine whether or not they understood and correctly applied the theories.

VB: Will you continue to exist as a virtual community after you’ve graduated and, if so, for what purpose?

Marthe Robben: We are only eight students in 4th year so it’s more intimate. We can share information, get constant feedback from each other, and invite people from our profession of specialization to give us comments. We're sure we will continue as a virtual community after we graduate; at least we'll continue to support each other.

VB: When you think of an entrepreneur, what characteristics are essential if they are to be successful?

Students in the Change Unit: Self-confidence. Question everything. Don’t assume anything. Research everything. Think about 'who do I trust' – that’s a critical element.

VB: What are the necessary attributes of an entrepreneur in terms of dealing with people?

Marthe Robben: You have to be like one of the employees, to speak their language. You have to know what your employees are doing. You have to think like your best customer.

VB: Are you becoming increasingly entrepreneurial in your thinking, values, and plans for future work? Are you generally more entrepreneurial than your parents' generation?

Angela de Jong: Yes, our generation is becoming more entrepreneurial than our parents generation. The question is, Why not? We have the means, the will, and most of all the skills.

Our school stimulates us to become more entrepreneurial. Most of our classes have a hint of independence in them. They provide us with information how to start up our own business, whether or not it's during a financial crisis. By contrast, for our parents’ generation it was quite normal to be educated in the spirit of ‘employee’. We are educated in the spirit of being our own boss. We're more critical in our thinking and expect to provide our own educated, strong voice even if we are employees rather than owners of our own companies.

VB: Are you excited at the prospect of being an entrepreneur when you graduate?

<>Amanda Langenberg: Yes.

Growing and learning. Being our own bosses. Being accountable for our own actions. Learning to embrace failure in order to learn from them – provided you don’t fail all the time.

VB: Is it inevitable in the 21st century that those behaviors and values that focus on competitive win/lose relationships will be increasingly replaced by cooperation and collaboration in highly successful organizations?

Inge van Schijndel: This is true.

In the future it will be more important to have supply networks instead of supply chains. We all want to have someone to rely on in our lives. Why would it be any different in the business world?

When you focus on win and lose situations, you will rip the shirt off some one else’s back. When you start to think in supply networks, you want to win and have each other win, or you both lose. This way people will always stand by and support each other. This is more effective than standing alone in the dark.

VB: Is your generation more adept at working collaboratively together, working as teams than your parents’ generation?

Amanda Langenberg & Marthe Robben: Yes, at least we can speak for our Academy.

The first and second year is all about working in teams. From the beginning we’ve been trained to work together. We also have to assess each other including how we're doing at being collaborative so we give each other feedback about what we’re doing right. As Darwin would say, we need to be the fittest population!

VB: NHTV Breda’s website refers to “problem-based learning.” What is that?

Students in the Change Unit: We are given a problem, learn from each other, and come up with our own solution.

It’s a good way of learning. You learn to ask questions, and question everything all the time. There is no single solution. It’s not a virtual task; we have person-to-person interactions with businesses or other organizations most often at their site. We then present our ideas and solutions to the clients, and obtain their feedback. During exam time a representative of the company comes to the university to be one of the assessors.

[Vern’s note: Not all answers could be identified with an individual in the interview and these are identified as being by 'Students in the (Organize with Chaos) Change Unit.']

VB: Are you studying the importance of creativity and innovation?

Students in the Change Unit: The curriculum at NHTV includes aspects of creativity in almost all courses. It’s a necessary aspect of preparing to go into business for ourselves, or to work for a business.

As a manager or entrepreneur you have to be innovative to keep your business interesting to costumers. To be innovative you have to be creative. There’s a big relationship between creativeness and chaos--change. Because chaos is always unpredictable you have to be creative.

VB: Is it true that chaos "exists"?

Anneloes Henskens: You don't "encourage" chaos. You actually "liberate" it.

VB: What do you mean by liberate it?

Anneloes Henskens: You can't guide chaos. It exists so you need to embrace it.

VB: What is the essence of "chaos" as you think of it, and how can it be used as a creative resource in businesses?

Marthe Robben: When I think of ‘chaos’ I think about a lot of colors, noise, many people, creativeness, and relaxed. If you want your life to be structured you have to live alone. When you allow for relationships with people such as friends, a boy or girl friend, or children, your life will be unpredictable and in chaos.

It's the same when you are a manager. People you work with are unpredictable. They’ll be ill one day and stay at home, but you still have to cope with the workload. You have to come up with a solution. Employees will tell you what they think about you. Sometimes it will be positive, sometimes negative, and you have to deal with it. If you create the right work climate to enable your employees to feel involved and committed your employees will come up with the best ideas that will make your company successful and rich. All of this will make your life a chaos. We are reminded of the quote of Bill Gates in Organize with Chaos: "The impetus for Microsoft's response to the Internet didn't come from me or from our other senior executives. It came from a small number of dedicated employees who saw events unfolding…they were able to rally everybody to their cause…smart people anywhere in the company should have the power to drive an initiative."

This last aspect is very important in a company. Involve your employees, and encourage them to think and work as if in their ‘own’ company. When this situation exists they will feel accepted and that their ideas will be taken seriously. They will stay alert, innovative and creative, and work with pleasure. The company will be successful because its employees are satisfied.

VB: Does this mean chaos is required for creativeness?

Anneloes Henskens: It’s not necessary. Some people are creative in a different way. To be a good manager you have to be creative all the time, not only in chaos but also in your mind. You have to think creatively, and be innovative – it’s all tied together.

VB: Marthe, you included 'relaxed' when you were describing what you think about chaos. How does relaxed fit in?

Marthe Robben: I have always had chaos in my head. Sometimes it’s important to be relaxed. You just have to let it go, take a moment of silence, and relax. With all the chaos, colors, noise and distractions around you, sometimes you just have to relax. Otherwise you’ll be overwhelmed with all that is happening.

Experience silence and allow time to think.

VB: In the third edition of Organize with Chaos, authors Joseph Roevens and Robin Rowley say, "Today's chaos mostly comes from the customer." "Feeling the customer's level of satisfaction…provides a strategic point of common reference." Do you have any comments?

Andrea van der Waag & Robbert Timmermans: A company may have a stable operation even if it is merely in tune with the newest trends compared to striving to satisfy its customers by providing products that set new trends. But incremental innovation means the company won’t live long. Customers want to enjoy the newest trends, innovations, and things. This forces a company to think about future trends to stay alive, and therefore brings chaos.

You have to beat your competitors and distinguish yourself all the time. Costumers aren't loyal anymore. If they’re not satisfied they will go to a competitor to buy the same or comparable products as you sell.

VB: Selling the same products will not set you apart from your competition. How do you differentiate yourself so you don’t have to compete on price alone especially, as you say, customers are not loyal?

Inge van Schijndel: You distinguish yourself by service and experience, which is the most important attribute of a company. If your clients are not happy with your service or the experience is no good, many of your clients will leave and not even tell you why.

You have to be customer focused. You ask yourself, “If I was a customer, what would I want?” "If the product I’ve bought breaks, is faulty, or doesn't meet my needs what do I want done about it?" "When I call do I receive help? “Is the help responsive and fast?"

VB: A customer complaint is not to be feared or avoided.

Inge van Schijndel: You need to hear from dissatisfied customers so you can improve your product, and become better than you currently are.

You also need to hear from your less than fully satisfied customers. If your customers always say they're satisfied in customer surveys or you hear that feedback from your customer service employees, you may think you no longer need innovation. The result is you will fall behind your competition.

VB: I understand that in Holland employees can challenge their managers without it being taken as a challenge to authority?

Amanda Langenberg: In Holland it’s called feedback. It’s not considered negative. You can say everything and anything, as long as you do it in a normal, civil manner. Sit, relax, take a deep breath, and then you can give negative feedback. Most people will do something with it, so the negative feedback ends up being positive.

VB: "Conflict is a sign of vitality." "Open healthy conflict builds trust." Would you talk about this?

Angela de Jong: We are convinced that conflict is a sign of vitality and strength.

If there are no conflicts and everyone in the company follows the decisions of the managers, serious problems can occur. If managers make a mistake in judgment or in a decision, and nobody dares to challenge them, the whole company will suffer the consequences. An example is the famous Japanese railroad company, SEIBU. The direction and decision of the CEO were faulty but it was not considered acceptable for the employees who knew better to challenge or criticize him. It led to enormous financial losses for the company. It was a question of culture as it would be unusual in Japan to oppose those who have a higher position than you.

A conflict means an exchange of opinions; the truth is born during the conflict. The more people share their opinions, the more likely they are likely to reach the "truth' or correct answers. Conflicts contribute to efficient decision-making, so employees should participate in the decision-making of the company, and be able to talk openly about what they think are problems.

VB: You are studying more aspects than business administration. What are some of the things you have learned from studying other approaches?

Anneloes Henskens: We want to do our jobs as we live our lives – in fullness. It's important for learning organizations to pay attention to I.Q (intelligence quotient), E.Q (emotional intelligence), F.Q (physical health), and S.Q (spiritual balance).

A lot of entrepreneurs, leaders, and employees get burned out from dealing with chaos. Yoga lessons, meditation, and similar relaxation techniques are more important today than ever. We understand that many managers can’t find a proper balance in their lives because they don’t know what their priorities are. They need to be more in tune with their spirituality, and more integrated in their lives to find a balance and to prevent burn out.

VB: "New scientific business thinking…is either/and; it admits paradox. It's about being able to do both efficiency and innovation simultaneously." How can you do both simultaneously?

Amanda Langenberg: You can concurrently work on efficiency and innovation within your business. For example, when you work with robots your production becomes more efficient and it's innovative, too. 


VB: Is organizing with chaos especially applicable today given the world economic recession?

Students in the Change Unit: Organizing with chaos is essential today especially in light of the ongoing economic pressures, which could also be defined as a specific state of unpredictability. Managing change is supposed to be a matter of moving from one state to another, particularly from the problem state to the solved state. Thus, the potential result is transformation into a new form of organization with new characteristics, and a new style of managing and thinking. This process can either be short term or take a long time, but it’s inevitable and complex. And it doesn't stop.

An economic recession creates a negative business environment, but at the same time this very state could be fertile for new ideas and innovations. Thus, we could consider the current economic downfall as a pre-condition for acceptance of new, innovative ways for process management of change.


VB: What message do you have for leaders who see their current business reality as in chaos, meaning they think of it as being mostly negative rather than offering opportunities for creativity and innovation?

Students in the Change Unit: It would be reasonable to suggest that a person who is leading a team or a company understands the necessity and importance of seeing the opportunities, not the dead ends. Moreover, as we live in a very fast world today with technology, management approaches, and the economy changing at what seems an ever-faster pace, it’s not advisable to view business reality from the negative side. And we can’t stick to our habits, rules, and structured order.

Let’s take the example of SEMCO in Brazil. Along with a minimum set of rules it follows the principles of industrial democracy, being successful in the marketplace under the management of Ricardo Semler for nearly 30 years. It seems that one of the key factors for its success was the ability to see the positive side of the chaos.

A person can look forward to the future and try to view current problems as necessary and unavoidable things, or stick to the negative and fall behind embracing the past. Perhaps that might sound trivial. Nevertheless, trivial things are often quite hard to accept. Thus, the main message is go forward and accept the change, or stay behind and try to struggle with it. The main thing is to remember that time will not wait.

VB: Would you talk about "boss appreciation" and why it must be avoided in favor of "customer appreciation?"

Angela de Jong: Changing people’s roles and relationships promotes new rituals, symbols, and language which all focus more on customer appreciation than "boss" appreciation.

Appreciating your boss because he or she is the person who leads the department and knows the in's and out's is good. But giving employees the freedom to explore their own creativity in an organization without a strict hierarchy gives room for everybody to find their strengths in their jobs and tasks. This will improve or change them in terms of their attitudes, skills, and ability to work collaboratively.

VB: What do you think of when you hear the term ‘high power distance culture?’

Andrea van der Waag & Robbert Timmermans: Management is not only about making decisions and organizing what already exists; it’s also about what you will have in the future. Sometimes management will experiment with decisions and even new products, and sometimes they will fail. The good news is you can learn from these failures to improve future decision making.

When thinking about the environment in which the business operates we should consider two parts of our surroundings. Factors in the marketplace to consider include globalization, internationalization, proliferation of consumer-oriented products and services; changing economic situations, and unpredictable and changing consumer behavior. Highly informed customers have so much power in the marketplace, and therefore serving them will be increasingly demanding. Therefore, companies must respond to ever changing customer requests to be successful making the marketplace more competitive. The market will have more varieties of products and it will also accelerate change.

The second part is inside the company. This includes people-focused decisions concerning motivation and organizing work.

Everything is changing very quickly so managers, indeed all employees in companies, should adapt by inventing new ways and techniques of dealing with things. It implies infinite trials to improve on existing ways of management by means of continuous experiment.

VB: Would you talk about the concept of fundamental change?

Andrea van der Waag & Robbert Timmermans: In a company one should be able to measure how much profit is received by down-sizing compared to not taking this action, and instead focusing on sustainable growth. It's a fact that business leaders walk the organizational path based on figures, with the end goal being sustainable profits.

When looking at previous experiences and scenarios there is an almost infinite number of arguments against downsizing. It's even proven that often down-sizing decreases profits. Employee workload increases, which could result in more burn-outs and unsatisfied, skilled people leaving your company. If some leave, the most talented people will also leave because the psychological step is smaller – the result is talent bleeding. The consequence may be a vicious cycle. With talent bleeding only the mediocre employees will be committed to remain with the company resulting in diminished product quality and productivity. Even if the most skilled remain they, along with the others, will be demoralized and no longer exert their maximum, dedicated effort in support of the company's desire to make a profit and prosper.

People work harder when they are satisfied. This means organizational leaders do not have to pump as much time and energy into ensuring the company remains financially healthy and viable. Promoting employees’ wellbeing and commitment is needed to effect fundamental change, such as a change in business model or engaging in radical innovations in the marketplace.

Another unintended consequence which is not always considered when laying off people according to job types and workload demands is it can sever informal ties, hidden channels of communication, and remove informal but key leaders of work groups. When down-sizing happens in an organization real chaos, de-motivation, and employee resistance can be expected.

VB: What needs to be done to reduce the risk of failure or increase the likelihood change initiatives will be successful?

Inge van Schijndel: The same situation, as occurs around the world in industrialized countries, can be found in the Netherlands. Almost 70% of the management techniques fail. All too often the end result differs enormously from the desired end result. Clients do not notice the intended change initiatives, new policies are not executed, goals are not reached, and employees and managers lose focus and engage in non-critical activities. These are a few reasons why these management techniques fail.

What needs to be done to increase the likelihood of such initiatives being successful? We need to let go. Planning and taking steps to facilitate change does not always work. Change emerges from chaos and chaos requires the free reign of employees within a predetermined playing field. Set your goals, identify what you want to see changed, create the rules to play by, and then let go! As said before, people tend to function best when they are considered humans and responsible.

VB: One of the observations in Organize with Chaos is that empowerment involves trust and sharing of sensitive information across departmental boundaries. Also, "An organization is as sick as its secrets." What advice do you have for business and other organizational leaders who don't want to share sensitive information with their employees – such as downsizing plans, relocating or closure of production units, and financial data about sales, costs and profit margins?

Inge van Schijndel: The most important question is, 'Why not share?' What are the advantages of not sharing this sensitive information?

Will it make employees more motivated? No. Does it prevent chaos and insecurity with the employees? No. Will it make your employees more willing to cooperate with management and their ‘secret plans’? Absolutely not.

Organizational leaders need to be aware of the paradox. They expect full commitment and loyalty of their employees. But they also assume that they cannot trust them. One wonders how this makes for fully committed and loyal employees.

The first step is making leaders aware. The second is convincing them of the advantages when they do share and are open with their employees. When sharing information they may avoid talent bleeding, encourage employees to be open, cooperative, and more willing to learn new functions and help the company thrive in chaos. There's a bit of psychology involved, because employees will feel they are considered valuable assets. Which in fact, they really are.

Not only will it save enormous costs in hiring and training new personnel, but also in guiding the company through change. If the eyes of organizational leaders are opened to the advantages of sharing sensitive information, they are more likely to support empowerment.

VB: Does it come down to trust, respect, and shared accountabilities?

Amanda Langenberg: Yes, if you don’t trust and respect your people, then don’t expect them to follow you. Don’t expect them to respect you. Resistance may not even be at a conscious level; it may be an unconscious consequence of how they are treated.

If there isn't a mutual understanding between employees and the management team it should not be expected that employees will unquestioningly follow changes in directions. They will resist initiatives in the company that are required for success.

Marthe Robben: The concealment of information or keeping secrets is a false way to lead an organization. Honesty and openness is a good approach to create a comfortable working atmosphere.

An organization can be as ill as the secrets its leaders keep from their employees. The best approach is a free flow of information within and even outside the organization. This is the case even when the message is negative. A perfect example was the bribe money affair at SEIBU, which we talked about earlier. The result was not only a financial impact; it also resulted in a negative public image.

VB: Is the Internet one of the major sources of chaos in the business world?

Anneloes Henskens: Yes.

Most of the communication by larger companies in the Netherlands is done through the Internet. One of the reasons is it's free. Secondly, it makes it easier to reach the global marketplace.

There are downsides or risks that companies can't control, but they may influence these risks by being honest and open. Citizens of the world can join virtual communities and share their assessments and views of organizations, their activities, and their products.

The information that is spread through the Internet is not reviewed for authenticity and therefore is not always reliable. But it is relied on by many. The first chaotic situation is how does a company separate authentic from non-authentic sources on the Internet for input into the company’s goals and innovation directions?

Inge van Schijndel: Secondly, a company needs to be concerned about the fact the Internet is not secure, and therefore it’s potentially quite ‘dangerous’. Controls built into the system infrastructures linked to the Internet are subject to being hacked and attacked by viruses. For example the stew dams in the flat lands in Holland where hacked and controlled by a foreign server. Companies too are vulnerable to cyber attacks.

VB: What are stew dams, and what happened to them?

Inge van Schijndel: Some of the land in Holland is manmade. The water level was too high, so they built dams that could be opened and closed as necessary. They’re the kind of dams they should have had in New Orleans during Katrina!

Because the network for controlling the stew dams was not secure, someone hacked into the server and opened and closed the dams just for fun. People from the local municipality were worried because the computer hackers were able to control these huge dams, and were having an affect on water levels, shipping, and safety.

VB: What did they do to regain control of the dams and prevent hacking into the system?

Inge van Schijndel: They made it a closed system. They put in firewalls, anti-virus systems, and, if we understand it correctly, booby traps to catch attempts at hacking. They are determined to not let it happen again.

When taking all these ‘vulnerabilities’ but also the potential opportunities of the Internet into account, it is one of the major sources of chaos. You do not know when you're being attacked by cyber criminals. You don't know whether information is authentic, and thus reliable. Lastly, information and virtual communities can bend or break your organization by spreading accurate or inaccurate information.

It's almost mandatory that organizational leaders make organizational decisions and goals around the Internet, because it is and will continue to be the major source of chaos.

VB: If the Internet is such a high risk for organizations why are all of us embracing it?

Amanda Langenberg: It’s not all negative. It opens up the world for you. Communication is much easier. There are many advantages, and there can be solutions to address any disadvantages or pitfalls of the Web. There’s always a solution for everything.

VB: Is the role of a leader always to "under-manage"?

Marthe Robben: It depends on the situation. In some cases managers have to stay back and watch how employees solve the problems. On the other side, the employees sometimes need the type of leader who will take control of the group.

VB: Is the concept of "job", which dates back to the 16th century, becoming obsolete? If so, what will it take to get all employees to "think and act like entrepreneurs" in their organizations? To "excite entrepreneurship?"

Angela de Jong: The concept of “job” is not becoming obsolete. There will continue to be the need to organize people to work together, although more people are finding ways to become self-employed and work on projects in collaboration with other independent workers. It requires a lot of ingenuity and drive.

Even if in a job employees should be encouraged to think and act like entrepreneurs, and to work as they would in their own company. When they have this feeling for the organization they perform much better and show more initiative. It depends on the culture and the ways of the managers.

VB: What are some tips for motivating employees by organizing with chaos?

Andrea van der Waag & Robbert Timmermans: There are different ways to organize with chaos. It's important that all the employees from the lowest to the highest in an organization get the feeling they all are important. A good example is given in the interview with Ricardo Semler, chairman of the Brazilian company SEMCO, on the Organize with Chaos Community website.

When an organization has to solve problems it often has to use the knowledge of the employees of more than one workgroup, section, department, or division. Nobody has the knowledge and skills available in every part of larger organizations. The “normal employees” may only know what's going on in their part of the company, but they may know what must be changed to make the company more successful. Top managers need to provide employees with the feeling that their ideas will be taken seriously if they wish to have creative, useful ideas generated and shared. There must also be some assurance that good ideas will be reviewed and considered for implementation. The benefit is employees will always be searching for better solutions.

VB: What is meant by, "…organizational change must evolve from within the people."

Angela de Jong: The employees themselves know what has to be changed in the organization to optimize quality in products and customer service. Changes in the organization will impact the employees, so to have a high likelihood of success the changes should be created with significant input and drive by them.

When people create their own changes they optimize their own performance.

VB: Why is constant change a key factor in business and organizational success?

Andrea van der Waag & Robbert Timmermans: Since chaos is a key issue nowadays, what works today can be non-effective tomorrow. This is, in part, because customers are more dynamic, knowing, and flexible than before.

Prior to the booming of the Internet, companies could hold the biggest market share because knowledge was not widely available to customers. The Internet changed all this. With Web 2.0 and the rise of “social networking,” customers are easily able to access and interact with information about a product or service, influencing their choice of which business they will purchase from.

Web 2.0 allows users or customers to do more than just retrieve information. They can build on the interactive facilities of "Web 1.0" to provide "Network as platform" computing, allowing users to run software applications entirely through a browser. Users can own the data on a Web 2.0 site they don't own and control, and yet exercise control over their data. These sites may have an "architecture of participation" that encourages users to add value to the application as they use it. This stands in contrast to traditional websites, the sort that limited visitors to viewing and whose content only the site's owner could modify.

A good example of a Web 2.0 website is our own Organize with Chaos community where members are participating in discussions, are able to upload their products or media, and thereby influence the content and appearance of the website.

In relation to Web 2.0, what comes to mind is that companies should be dynamic to cooperate and communicate with their rapidly changing and demanding current and potential customers. A product or service you sell can be seen as effective, but in a matter of hours it can be termed useless in a web community with millions of members, like LinkedIn with over 40 million users as of May of this year.

It doesn’t stop there, because not only do people discuss topics in web communities in a matter of minutes, they can share their information and data with other web communities which, for example, could be FaceBook currently with about 300 million users. Clearly the possibilities are endless and communication within networks is amazingly fast, instilling major chaos as a result.

Change, as a key factor of chaos, comes from the customers nowadays. It’s not only the ability of continuous change, but also the ability to allow chaos to roam or be initiated on your own. Some companies create their own web communities and provide their customers with the freedom to use their Web 2.0 tools on the site for value added services, such as designing their own product for manufacture, developing prototypes, creating a community of lead users, enabling customers to help other customers use the company's products, or crowd sourcing for feedback on comparable products provided by the host company and its competitors.

VB: Should change processes almost always focus on ''satisfying the customer?''

Amanda Langenberg: It is always about satisfying the customer, especially if we think in terms of internal and external customers. The customer can be any stakeholder of a company, and without those stakeholders the company would not exist.

On the other hand, it might be more instructive to focus on three important priorities in a change process, these are:

  1. Cash flow - Cash flow, not profit, keeps your business alive. Without cash flow employees cannot receive important reward systems like salaries and bonuses.

  2. Employees - Employees need to be happy and satisfied in order to create a ‘healthy’ and ‘positive’ work environment, and consistent brand awareness.

  3. External Customers - Organizations need to be ‘healthy’ in order to satisfy customers. Unmotivated employees are not able to satisfy customers. When the cash flow and employees are under control, organizations can start focusing on satisfying external customers.


VB: How can an organization reach the state where front line staff welcomes, rather than fears or opposes, change?

Amanda Langenberg: The key is to help front line staff become true leaders, with the time, skills, and desire to understand the company’s business directions and priorities. They should have enough time to think ahead, uncover and solve long-term problems, and plan for new demands.

In order to provide a foundation for front line staff to become true leaders, an organization should discard low trust notions of top down direction and controls, and start to think more holistically about how to:

  1. Connect all people to the market realities.

  2. Liberate emotional and creative energy.

  3. Improve the chances of luck and opportunistic accidents.

  4. Recognize, welcome, and develop fresh opportunities.

  5. Foster productive relationships.

  6. Nurture individual excellence and total customer commitment.


As Robin Rowley puts it, "'Leadership' is simply an outcome of the behavior of the followers. There are no leaders. Leadership is a process, not a person and, as such, it changes too. "

VB: Some business theorists talk about the need for an organization to constantly "reinvent itself". Is that the essence of dealing with change in the chaos of the information age?

Students in the Change Unit: No, although it is related to the chaos in the information age, chaos partly relates to the rapidly changing opinions of customers. This means your company is constantly subject to being opinioned by thousands or millions of people from all over the globe. As a consequence, reinventing yourself will be vital in order to survive any bad criticism, or adapt to the rapidly changing demands of customers.

The essence of dealing with change is not wanting to control or fight it, but embracing and using it to your advantage. One example can be reinventing yourself as a company as the chaos might steer you into becoming a partly or totally new company, with totally changed business models. This happens.

VB: Would you talk about "Change Efficiency"?

Anneloes Henskens: Change efficiency means "being able to change well together." It comes from having reliable people, equipment, and information, and being free to explore the true reality of each new situation together!

VB: What is needed for executives of businesses to understand and take advantage of chaos?

Amanda Langenberg: The practical challenge for any executive today is not so much to try and eliminate chaos, but to learn to understand and use it strategically as a vital, creative resource. In times of chaos, values come before vision.

VB: Is that the same as, "Executives must learn to stop being zoo keepers and become safari park rangers?"

Anneloes Henskens: Since the 1990s we have known that effectiveness in organizations is at least as much about EQ (emotional quotient) as IQ (intelligence quotient). People could take steps to enhance their emotional intelligence, and make themselves more effective in their work and personal lives.

The problem is that the concept is mostly used as individual competencies. That means the 'animals' can expand their emotional intelligence only in their own cage – their department. This means a manager often doesn't know if an employee has more skills and potential than they are currently showing. Instead of building a strict organizational structure you can involve the chaos.

Maybe some people from different departments could work well with each other, or we may find someone in another department with the competencies we desperately need in our department. New teams can create greater emotional intelligence and boost their overall performance.

So the answer is open the cages and involve the chaos of a safari park. The ranger can always interfere if it doesn't work out, but the possibility that the employees will be more motivated, enthusiastic, effective, and expand their skills is a possibility to create a strong organizational atmosphere in your company.

VB: "Under-manage – refuse to command and keep out." Would you talk about this?

Inge van Schijndel: Why not do this? A manager or a leader is not always meant to command and keep track of everything. Firstly, it's impossible to keep track of everything that is done within your department. Secondly, people tend to function better, and they're willing to function better when left to themselves without a nosy manager keeping track of them.

Besides these facts, there is a situation known in companies called ‘self-organizing’. Humanity, and nature for that matter, has the ability to self organize complex situations. People chose how they want to cooperate and with whom. Normally this turns out even better than the formal, written lines of communication.

Important in this development for organization leaders is to keep out. Let people find their best way to cooperate with each other. Keep out of their primary work; this will generate trust. When you generate trust you generate willingness, which could, and most likely will, increase productivity and quality. Trust your people and they will trust you!

VB: Is it difficult for managers and leaders to make this dramatic change in management thinking and approach?

Anneloes Henskens: Yes, in general it's difficult as for years the managers became used to managing in a certain way, and now suddenly this is changed.

The human mind is like the strings of a piano, all linked to keys, which are played upon for a certain amount of time. The unique way the piano is used determines the way the strings bend. When the piano is tuned, it does not adapt overnight, as the strings have been set in that position for a long time and tend to bend back. Tuning, just as adapting to a new way of management, is done by repeated adjustment and evaluation every week, then every month, every half year, and every year on an ongoing basis.

Repetition is the mother of skill and continuous evaluation is its father, both directing it on the way of adaption. But there are always exceptions, as when people directly make a 'switch'.

VB: "Employ the intelligent use of executive silence and time." What does this mean?

Marthe Robben: When you are silent, people have to think by themselves and come up with solutions.

VB: Would you talk about the "Network Tracker?"

Students in the Change Unit: Many organizations use ‘organograms’ to indicate how people must behave and communicate. The Network Tracker© pictures how people in organizations really communicate, manage, and organize themselves, and offers a tool to honestly look at the organization and create a common future.

The Organize with Chaos community website provides an example of a Network Tracker.

VB: "Humans are naturally creative, watch any bunch of kids. You don't need to stimulate creativeness, you just take the blocks and obstacles away." Does chaos help to take the blocks and obstacles away?

Students in the Change Unit: In many ways, yes.

Chaos removes the obstacles and blocks by giving birth to new challenges – both personal and professional. By allowing yourself, your company, or your employees to be creative you remove seriousness and strictness to give room for open creativity.

A quote from Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra is relevant here, "One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star." As Joseph Campbell says, if you want omelets, you've got to be willing to break some eggs.

The point should be to quit trying to deny the challenges, or to avoid "breaking any eggs." If you and your organization want to give birth to the divine star within, you have to learn to dance with the chaos.

VB: What are some tips for learning how to dance with the chaos?

Inge van Schijndel: Do you know how dance the tango? That’s a good starting point. Do it with flair.

VB: Would you talk about "Creative Chaos?"

Amanda Langenberg: "Creative Chaos" refers to when your people are exploring and trying out new ideas. Hopefully, some enthusiastic people have been busy experimenting with alternatives long before the old ways no longer work. This means some inefficiency and slack is essential for creativeness. It gives thinking time to generate ideas, test, and perfect.

VB: In an organization is it possible for the same people to be involved in "creative freedom" and transforming chaos into "efficient control?" Or do these require fundamentally different skills?

Andrea van der Waag & Robbert Timmermans: It is possible. There are no specific skills needed for this to happen except people’s ambition to change and their willingness to explore their own creativity. People must be coached to go all the way through the phase of "creative chaos" before they can transform the ripe fruit of it into "efficient control". This change process is a continuous spiral.

In business organizations, efficient control should attract creative chaos to self-organize. Chaos betokens a rapid change in beliefs, as described by Thomas Kuhn’s paradigm shift.

"Efficient control" is a phase where an organization operates efficiently, smoothly and fairly predictably. People simply do what they must do to produce a consistent outcome for profitable results. What is today’s cash cow may need to become tomorrow’s arena for change.

"Creative chaos” or “freedom" indicates the phase when people in the organization are exploring and trying out new ideas. Efficient control maintains your existing mature business as a profitable routine. Chaotic freedom, on the other hand, is necessary to create innovative new products and new markets which attract new business. Also, it's the best way to respond flexibly and fast when the unexpected happens.

For financial viability, a realistic strategic balance should occur between efficient control and creative chaos. Too much chaos tears an organization apart, but too much control and it will atrophy and die.

VB: "Conflict is a sign of vitality." Is conflict often also a catalyst for creativity and innovation?

Angela de Jong: We are convinced that conflict is a sign of vitality. An absence of conflict might affect the company's performance.

If there are no conflicts and everyone in the workgroup or the company as a whole always follows the decisions of the leader serious problems can occur. If the manager makes a mistake and nobody dares to challenge him, the whole company will suffer the resulting negative consequences.

A conflict means an exchange of opinions; the truth is born during the conflict. The more people share their opinions, the closer they are to the truth. Thus, conflicts obviously contribute to efficient decision-making. This means the workers should participate in the decision-making of the company, and talk openly about what they think about decisions or perceived problems.

VB: Does this mean that conflict is an important part of stimulating new ideas and for a company or other organization to be creative and innovative? Expressed another way, in the absence of conflict will an organization be prone to stagnation and to not change?

Angela de Jong: Yes, it can very likely be so. If there is no conflict there is no need for change. Conflict can arise not only from an economic crisis or a new competitor, but also within the company, within the people. There will always be some conflict within a company that doesn’t necessarily affect the entire organization but a few departments, people or even revenues.

VB: The term "Human Resources" is sometimes considered to be an "offensive term". Do you agree?

Amanda Langenberg: The term strips people of their humanity and turns them into objects to be manipulated, or even eliminated all together. It’s the same with downsizing.

The term ‘Human Resources’ finds its origin in the word ‘employ,’ originally meant to ‘use’ someone in exchange for wages. According to the Oxford dictionary, there are four ways to ‘use’ an object or as implied in this case, a human being:

  1. Handle as an instrument;

  2. Consume as material;

  3. Exercise into operation; and

  4. Freely avail oneself of.


This is where the offensive term ‘Human Resources’ comes from; it’s an insult.

VB: Would you talk about "Newtonian consultants", and why do you think they still have a lot of influence and many clients?

Angela de Jong: People and organisations like certainty. They believe consultants can give a clear and expert overview of the problems, and provide a good plan of action for change. Information and plans of action that consultants provide gives organizations a ‘controlled’ and ‘secure’ feeling. Most organisations don’t realise that those kind of hard services are not effective for them.

Many scientifically illiterate consulting firms are actually the disease of which they pretend to be the cure. Their expensive advice is often based on lethal archaic ‘scientific’ assumptions.

VB: What has to be done for humanity to avoid the "Sixth Extinction," or is it already too late?

Inge van Schijndel: No, it is not too late to avoid the Sixth Extinction! To avoid this enormous disaster we need to change the core beliefs we have about nature and its ecological systems.

Currently, we are endangering the existence of all species on this planet in three principal ways. First, through direct exploitation. Second, by introducing alien species to new ecosystems, whether or not it’s deliberate or accidental. Last, and most important, through destruction, fragmentation, and changing habitats all over the world – such as with the rain forests.

We must master demographic expansion, and begin to drastically reduce our excess consumption of important natural resources. We need to understand and act upon the fact that we cannot destroy the rain forests for more agricultural land and exotic woods use. We need to bring our consumption back to a more moderate level instead of always striving for bigger and better. We must teach the following generations the core belief that ‘less is more.’

Another important area to consider is the services that the earth offers us, such as ecological filtering systems, perfectly natural water filtration, natural carbon storage facilities in vast forests, natural vegetation‘s prevention of erosion and floods, and natural plant pollination by insects and birds. It is wise to protect all these vital ecological systems. All of them can be protected and enhanced if given the chance. For example, think of Yellowstone National Park in the U.S., or Kamtsjatka Reservation in the east of Russia.

Paul R. Ehrlich, an American entomologist specializing in butterflies, has proposed that we, as humanity, must appeal to private foundations that are dedicated to conservation. This approach is less expensive for the taxpayer and also enables significant money to be generated.

In order to avoid the Sixth Extinction we should also be in closer contact with nature. The rise of multimedia has drastically reduced visits to national parks in America, as found by in research by Robert Pringle, an American ecologist. Similar situations have occurred in other developed countries as well. The result is a distancing of urban dwellers, which make up increasing proportions of the population and political power bases, from considering at a personal level that preservation of ecological systems is important for our long-term survival.

We must educate this and following generations that nature is more than an image broadcast by multi media. We must encourage a love for nature at a very emotional level and this includes, among many other ways, studies of ecology and species within our education system. Humanity as a whole, and the corporate world must only invest in durable products, consume less, and get away from thinking we can “throw anything away” in order to maintain a balance in our environment.

For all, in the end ‘less is more’.

VB: Are you generally optimistic that business people will embrace the "ethics of ecology"?

Anneloes Henskens & Amanda Langenberg: We are generally optimistic, but not naïve.

Participating in the 4th year change unit program makes us aware of ethics and ecology. We will use the knowledge and skills we have acquired in our professions after we have graduated. If we do this in a positive way, others will follow.

VB: What are some of the interesting things you have learned about organizing with chaos?

Amanda Langenberg: The world is changed. For example, the Internet has rapidly grown over the years. The pace of change will increase at an ever-faster pace. We need to embrace uncertainty.

Thinking such as, ‘You either reduce costs or you invest for growth’ is out-of-date. Today’s market gives the opportunity to work efficiently and in an ecologically responsible manner, and grow at the same time.

VB: As students, are you concerned you’re entering a world of ever greater global competition?

Amanda Langenberg: It also motivates you to stand out, try harder, yourself special, and distinguish yourself. So it can be a motivator. We are generally optimistic and motivated to be successful.

VB: Thank you. It's been a sincere pleasure talking with some of the world's future entrepreneurs. Best wishes in your current studies and future careers.

Conclusion:
It is encouraging to talk to future leaders who are positive about the future and welcome creative chaos.

They have an admirable depth of knowledge and understanding of the challenges and opportunities related to business management. It's not only about making a profit; they are wise about issues such as the ethics of ecology, empowering employees, having a balanced life, seeing positive conflict as a sign of vitality, and the importance of values.

It's all about your attitude toward change – threat or opportunity?

Bios of Students in the Organize with Chaos Change Unit:
Six of the students study at the Academy of Facility Management and Real Estate of the NHTV in Breda. Andrea van der Waag studies at the Acadamy of Hotel Management of the NHTV in Breda.

Inge van SchijndelInge van Schijndel: I am 22 years old. My interests on a business level in this world go out to psychology, organizational behavior and humanity. I believe that all these aspects can be incorporated into modern (hard) society. In my research, supported by Joseph Roevens, I will provide a clear overview of my personal belief.




Amanda LangenbergAmanda Langenberg: I am 23 years old. During the change unit process I discovered my interest and abilities for coaching. I have been introduced to a fascinating new coaching method called systemic constellations. After graduation I would like to develop myself more in coaching techniques.




Angela de JongAngela de Jong: I am 22 years old. In my graduation year I will research the chaos theory and other change theories. Accordingly, in my literature study I will gather knowledge about the multiple points of view about change. With my research and in cooperation with the Change Unit I can create my own vision.




Anneloes HenskensAnneloes Henskens: I am a creative, fun, responsible, self-disciplined, and enthusiastic person. My passion is sports and I feel joy by having a good discussion about life or spirituality. I need a big social network and love to be with friends and family. I am an honor roll student, and I share my knowledge about change with the change unit members. It gives me a good vision about change and makes me curious to learn more.


Marthe RobbenMarthe Robben: At this moment I am busy writing a paper about the following books: Organize with Chaos, SEMCO-Style and, In Which Reorganization Do You Work. Change management interests me because if you can handle change in a good way within an organization, that will make the organization stronger and more connected all the levels and with the work field.



Robbert TimmermansRobbert Timmermans: Early 2009, I dived further into the field of change management and Organizational sciences to pursue one of my biggest passions; exploring and improving my understanding of what drives us as human beings, and our organizational behavior. After my graduation I tend to pursue a career focused in this field of expertise and contribute to the work field through my ambition, inspiration and determination.


Andrea van de WaagAndrea van der Waag: During my last year at the NHTV, I chose to join the Pre-Master class of Change Management in order to learn more about Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes. I eventually would like to relate my work to enforcing growth in human development (humanity) as it relates to economics and standards of living, eventually working and applying it in my home country, Honduras.



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