New word. Old challenge.

Ideas  /  Dave Mason  /  11.22.17
Photo: Cusp Conference / Joe Rommel
Photo: Cusp Conference / Joe Rommel

I learned a new word recently.


Maybe you’re familiar with that term, but I wasn’t until Natalie Nixon sprung it on us at Cusp Conference 2017.

It really is a great word. Basically, ‘chaordic’ is a word used to describe a system of organization that blends chaos and order. That mix is often described as “a harmonious coexistence displaying characteristics of both, with neither chaos nor order dominating”, and chaordic principles have been used as guidelines for creating organizations for businesses, nonprofits, government and the like.

Harmony is always awesome, but I’m thinking that for most people, but more than likely for those of us in the design world, the order side of that equation is where we prefer to live. Definition, research, analysis, planning, ideation, implementation, evaluation, and iteration in the pursuit of control and predictability are the name of the game.

The chaos side? While winning the lottery might be considered ‘chaos’, at least for me, chaos is generally the opposite of good, and therefore represents the side of the equation that I try to keep as far away from as possible.

But we all experience it from time to time, to one degree or another: chaos gains the upper hand. Things go wrong. Plans go awry. Bad stuff occurs. Shit happens.

Order is good.

My guess is that most of the things people have done since we first figured out we could do them — from brushing our teeth to designing and building our businesses, systems and societies — we’ve done in an attempt to create some semblance of order within our lives. The plans we’ve made, the products, services, and systems we’ve developed, have been designed to try to tip the balance between order and chaos in our favor, and in the favor of the people we care about. When it comes to exerting some degree of control over our lives, those things count. The challenge there is to stop negatively impacting other people’s lives in order to improve our own. To think bigger. Because when chaos looms large, what an incredible feeling it is to be able to lean on other people: to know that you’re not alone.

So as we plan another turkey dinner (who knows what chaos might intrude on that order!) I feel incredibly fortunate to be part of a family, a wide network of friends, a business community, and a greater society that has afforded me and those I care about the opportunities it has. But at the same time I also feel compelled to somehow find ways to address the inequities and unfairness that have denied the same opportunities to others.

More order is better.

It seems to me that every inhabitant of planet Earth is an integral part of one giant chaordic system. It may be a stretch, but I’m hopeful that maybe one day (come on great-great-great-great-grandkids, you can do it!) we’ll stop being such dicks to each other, and come closer to figuring out that we’re all stronger when we’re together. And maybe that collective strength will enable even greater order among the chaos.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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