I would be lying if I said I’ve enjoyed experiencing chaos in my life. I don’t believe anyone actually likes unforeseen (most times negative) situations that change your plans all of a sudden; or external situations that make you go in a completely opposite direction to what you had forecasted or planned. Chaos, crisis, disruption… these are concepts that, despite not being eagerly embraced, are part of our current—and most likely future—business environment.

The Need for Control

Over the past decade, IT organizations have actively pursued control. Control is a natural reaction to entropy; when things go as unexpected, we want to maintain things under control. This isn’t bad at all; actually control worked very well when IT organizations introduced operational frameworks and processes. Standardizing ways of operating is necessary to obtain consistency on outcomes from activities performed by multiple teams or tools. However, control may become detrimental when it prevents innovation and growth.

In an intent for maintaining stability, IT organizations, through processes like Change or Release Management, have established exhaustive controls that assess every single aspect of a proposed change or release into production, while newer approaches such as Agile and DevOps suggest a more automated and practical fashion to implementing new features. I mean, hundreds and even thousands of releases per day, as DevOps practices suggest, doesn’t sound much like a controlled way of managing releases.

The Need for Chaos

Chaos has been pursued by many organizations that have been taking the lead in innovating within their own industries, like Amazon, Netflix or Spotify. Their philosophy and culture not only allows but embraces chaos as a way of allowing people and teams to experiment to create new things, and we all can see the results this mindset has delivered. Of course chaos is not left adrift, it is rather managed, but not precisely controlled (i.e. restricted); it is allowed and pursued more and more every day.

Intentional and managed chaos allows teams and decision makers to understand possible scenarios that may happen beyond what can be foreseen in a highly-controlled environment. If we don’t allow for chaos, we might be missing opportunities for innovation. Businesses can definitely still innovate without embracing chaos, but is that going to be the same level of disruption that a business that is eager for chaos going to obtain?

From Chaos to Crisis

Chaos will probably create crisis, and that’s precisely the idea. Albert Einstein’s famous quote on crisis clearly expressed the need for it in order to evolve, grow and learn to overcome challenges. Things are going to change either way; the world keeps evolving and change is inevitable. Whether we anticipate to that change—and moreover encourage it—or just go along with it attempting to survive once it happens, might determine the success or market position of a business. Our current digital environment and the future it promises demands much more than just going ‘by the book’ or ‘sticking to the manual’. If we don’t cause crisis through intentional chaos, it will sooner or later reach us. If we proactively pursued chaos, we will be ready to respond once the crisis is real. If we didn’t, well, good luck with the real world.

Focusing on the Customer: The Key to Achieve the Right Balance

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that we should just promote chaos for its own sake. There should be a goal in all this, and that needs to be the customer. More stable services, slower response times, higher volumes of data processed, new and attractive features, better-looking and more-friendly apps, all these are outcomes that the aforementioned examples of industry leaders have achieved through their chaos engineering practices and other experiments, but there’s always been a connection with a customer need, even if unknown before the solution was created.

We also need to consider that this approach will not work everywhere; there are areas that still need a more traditional focus on control. For instance, Governance is a layer of control that should not be missing, even if there’s a lot of chaos occurring down the ladder in the organization.

In other words, for chaos to effectively lead to the desired innovation, we should have enough clarity of what we are trying to achieve, or even ‘why’ we are trying to do it, but that’s actually a good topic for another post!