Creating Order Out of Chaos

Try googling that phrase.  What do you get?  A mom of a 5-year-old with ADHD who has a strategy for your child to improve his/her study habits.  A blog about what chaos is and how it makes you feel, and how you feel better when there is less chaos in your life. And many other options. 
What I am talking about – what I read about – is chaos creating order.  In his book, “Antifragile – Things that Gain from Disorder,” Nassim Nicholas Taleb gives some examples of situations that benefit from chaos or randomness.

  • A donkey equally famished and thirsty caught at an equal distance between food and water would unavoidably die of hunger or thirst. But he can be saved thanks to a random nudge one way or the other. – This is called Buridan’s Donkey,
  • By a mechanism called stochastic resonance, adding random noise to the background makes you hear the sounds (say, music) with more accuracy. Weak SOS signals, too weak to get picked up by remote receptors, can become audible in the presence of background noise and random interference.
  • Consider the method of annealing in metallurgy, a technique used to make metal stronger and more homogeneous. It involves the heating and controlled cooling of a material, to increase the size of the crystals and reduce their defects. The heat causes the atoms to become unstuck from their initial positions and wander randomly through states of higher energy; the cooling gives them more chances of finding new, better configurations.

To me the best (and weirdest) example of order from chaos was presented by a doctoral student. Balls on a table will jump chaotically if the table is given a set of steady vibrations on the surface. Then, but by adding random, low-intensity shocks, the balls start jumping in an orderly and smooth fashion.

What does this have to do with coaching?

I would argue that when a coach is listening well, the coach will hear the underlying theme of seemingly unrelated thoughts, like the balls bouncing every which way, and then ask the seemingly random question that makes all of those thoughts gel into a cohesive plan.

Sometimes you can see the way to order in the midst of chaos, but often times, you are too distracted by trying to line all those balls up and get them to jump in unison to see the missing, seemingly random vibration or thought that makes everything fall into place.