ORGANIZED CHAOS: Establishing a semblance of order when it seems otherwise.


Organized Chaos isn’t a new term. But I have always advised our clients that what you want in your organization during a crisis is “organized chaos.

Consider the following scenario:

There is a blazing fire in a building. There is heavy smoke and flames everywhere; you can hardly see your hand in front of you. Fire trucks, police cars, and ambulances with lights blazing are parked everywhere. Water is being sprayed at the fire at blinding speed. The injured are on stretchers or being carried on someone’s shoulders. Dozens of firemen are rushing around, screaming orders back and forth, carrying all kinds of paperwork, medical equipment . . . and the thought might occur to a person that this is absolute chaos. It’s a wonder that the fire is put out and the injured taken care of in this chaotic mess.

But, taking a deep breath and focusing, it becomes clear that there is an order to this confusion. Some wise and unflappable person called the incident commander has been apprised of the state of the fire; knows the potential number of people in the building; has ensured the firemen know what size and type of hose to use and where to attack the fire; knows which of his firemen are in the building and who is not in the building; and has set up a triage area to treat patients before they are taken away by the ambulances. Police have been asked to cordon off the area to ensure no one else can be injured. A Rapid Entry team stands by to go in and extract injured or trapped firemen. Eventually, the fire is put out, everyone is treated, and the site cleaned up. For those of us who love being in the heat of a crisis, this is “organized chaos” at its finest.

CHAOS has the appearance of being uncontrolled. Recent research of chaos helps us to understand that there is some order to that which appears to be out of control. Chaos theory is a prominent concept that gives life to this idea. It is best characterized by the concept of the “butterfly effect”; the illustration that a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil affects the space, energy, and activity of storm systems in New York City. There is a connection. It is not pure chaos, as in “out of control.”

Organized chaos, therefore, has elements to it that have nothing to do with human endeavor. However, there are elements of ourselves and our organization that we can apply to seemingly “crazy out of our mind” moments. The application of incident or crisis management, for instance, removes the overly-spontaneous character of a crisis or an event. Systematic organization of a team, or of resources, or of an incident management process provides for a planned result.

There is something humorous about the term organized chaos.” Some might consider it an oxymoron, a combination of words that contradict each other. It falls into the same category as the term “herding cats,” which is deemed almost impossible to accomplish by most of us.

My belief and experience is that the secret to organized chaos is revealed when one takes a breath, stands back, and removes one’s trepidation from the scene. It is a matter of perspective. That is not to say that there aren’t chaotic moments which are out of control. But I suspect that many of the times we think we are watching chaos there may be more order to it than we first sense.

So, what are you waiting for? Prepare yourself and your organization to bring “organized chaos” to those seemingly out of your mind moments that can bring your company to its knees!

Michael Herrera is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of MHA. In his role, Michael provides global leadership to the entire set of industry practices and horizontal capabilities within MHA. Under his leadership, MHA has become a leading provider of Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery services to organizations on a global level. He is also the founder of BCMMETRICS, a leading cloud based tool designed to assess business continuity compliance and residual risk. Michael is a well-known and sought after speaker on Business Continuity issues at local and national contingency planner chapter meetings and conferences. Prior to founding MHA, he was a Regional VP for Bank of America, where he was responsible for Business Continuity across the southwest region.

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