Fostering chaos in the workplace may not be an obvious route to business success. But in his new book “The Chaos Imperative”, Ori Brafman advocates the use of “contained chaos” to encourage and develop innovation. We talk to Brafman and creativity expert Keith Sawyer about how to achieve the most productive balance between structure and chaos.

Interview Highlights

Ori Brafman, organizational business consultant and author of "The Chaos Imperative: How Chance and Disruption Increase Innovation, Effectiveness, and Success"
Keith Sawyer, Morgan distinguished professor in educational innovations at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and author of the new book "Zig Zag: The Surprising Path to Greater Creativity"

  • Bill

    The first guest claimed that a 4-star general contacted him out of the blue after he graduated from Berkeley. Are we really supposed to believe that claim without any follow up questions? Maybe the guest just doesn’t want to tell us where he was working at the time, because it would be a red flag.

    Something tells me he wasn’t asked to help the military question authority, or question the profits of the military industrial complex, or to question why a 3rd building collapsed at free-fall speed on 9/11 at the World Trade Center, even though it wasn’t hit by any planes.

  • I worked for a very creative visionary who operated amongst chaos. I learned that enough organization to make his life work was necessary, but not to eradicate all chaos, as his creativity needed it. I was also deeply affected by this environment, surrounded by him and many more creatives, resulting in an increase of my own creative thinking, which has remained w/me, 20 years later.

  • Tripp3

    There’s a huge movement going on at many levels to find what’s good in things like intuition, chaos, non-linear thinking, etc. From IDEO’s “design thinking” to start-up culture’s willingness to try wild ideas to charter schools being built around concepts from gaming, it’s not just a trend, it’s something that has gone in and out of favor over the centuries. -Tripp (Palo Alto)

  • chrisnfolsom

    Power is about control, chaos is what challenges that control. Institutions which encourage some chaos systematically also have to learn to channel it.

    Unfortunately when you are dealing with deadlines and optimization you by necessity have to limit your distractions – which is where you might have the chance for innovation.

    I worked with 3M and they had a great financing policy where 25% of their income had to come from products that were less then 5 years old – which actually forced them to invest. They also allowed their engineer extra time and had in-house expositions to show off their products and different divisions were able to collaborate from them.

    • Bill

      Occupy was an example of chaos, yet the Pentagon identified Occupy as an insurgency. Apparently they don’t want just any kind of chaos… just the kind that helps those in power…

      • chrisnfolsom

        The problem is Organizations by definition don’t like Chaos – their job is to remove it. If your organization does not understand that innovation never comes from a board meeting.

        If thinking “outside the box” means moving production to another country, reducing money to colleges for core sciences, reducing research and development, reducing pathways for creative individuals to survive, grow and excel, and only rewarding those at the top of a corporation (the most creative of course) then you have no idea how America was able to do what it has over the last 50 years.

        I guess if you believe that God has a plan and creates/created everything then you can just believe there is enough chaos and happily skip through life, or steal as much as you can from others. If you believe in evolution and history as we now know it you know that without diversity/chaos you are lucky if you become a fossil, but you certainly won’t survive.

        • Shane

          Indeed the question is: Whose creativity?

          I hate to whip out an Argumentam ad Hitlerium, but I am sure the Nazis running the concentration camps had their own ideas of creativity and may have been “in their moment” on many occasions. But was that form of creativity to be cherished and lauded? I think not.

  • Bill

    The best form of chaos that you can bring to an organization is the elimination of middle management.

  • Fay Nissenbaum

    I feel more creative when I have an outdoor area or garden to take my lunch in, and perhaps have a brief nap or time when I close my eyes. Being told inside a building to “be creative” in forced team-building outings does not do it. Can you comment on the physical environment of workers? Taking down the walls to their cubicles so people have no privacy is the current approach which is ludicrous.
    Great topic today – love the show!

  • Aaron

    I haven’t caught the entire conversation. Though I’ve heard Dave Iverson sound mystified by the idea of a meeting without an agenda, or at least a leader. Perhaps not shocking for a good talk show host.

    Has anyone mentioned Quaker meetings? I’ve seen those both as a form of community worship and conducting business. And they’ve been among the most effective forms of communication, sharing of ideas, and encouragement of creative thinking I have ever seen, or can really imagine.

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