Surfing the Edge of Chaos


 “Surfing the Edge of Chaos” is a study of business survival of which I was a part of.  I can talk to events in this book on several levels since Hewlett Packard was one of the test cases and attest that the caption on the cover is true; “The first rule of life is also the first rule of business: adapt or die.”

Basically the book is the study of several businesses that have learned that when you force a team to the edge of the proverbial envelope that emergence and self-organization takes place.  This is to say that some people step up to new roles (emergence) and the team as a whole comes together to solve the problem at hand (self-organization).  This is a state that all high performing teams should find themselves in on a regular basis, but much like combat, you can’t live there.

While understanding that a manager must push his team to the point of chaos, you must later let them de-stress and move back toward the point of complacency before driving them to the point of chaos again.  This is the “surfing” effect.  You don’t actually drive them in to chaos and you don’t keep them there.  However, each time you drive the team to the edge of chaos your driving them a bit farther than before because in this way chaos is like a drug.  It takes more each time to get the same high and effect.

All of this being said, surfing the edge of chaos does breed innovation.  It is also extremely stressful.  It is important to manage this situation carefully because there are several health problems that can come from this management technique and potentially death.  In fact, post Compaq – Hewlett Packard merger I can’t remember one year I was there that there was not a suicide in our division.  For this reason I often tell people I am happy for the experience but never want to return to that time.

This book is very well put together and the authors did their homework.  It is written by Richard T. Pascale, Mark Millemann, and Linda Gioja.  I can tell you from personal experience that many concepts in this book were studied by other Fortune 500 companies and should be in everyone’s arsenal of skills.  In fact, I personally know of companies that paid for internal studies of the effects of the Hewlett Packard merger and pieces of those studies can be found in this book.

To your business success.

Categories : Business Books


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