Embracing the Chaos of Possibility
Monday, April 22, 2013

“No chaos, no creation. Evidence: the kitchen at mealtime.” —Mason Cooley

As a child, one of my favorite toys was a set of bricks made of cardboard that I could stack and build into just about anything. I used to love creating forts, race car tracks, cabins, buildings, castles, and more. Have you ever watched a child play with blocks, Legos, or other elements of creative construction? For that child, those random pieces can become anything, limited only by imagination. I still recall the feeling that all of the possibilities in the world existed in that chaotic pile of cardboard bricks.

One of the more unfortunate side effects of growing up is that we often lose this childlike imagination. Instead of envisioning a fort, we see a mess of boxes that needs to be picked up. Our reward systems at work are largely built to emphasize this thinking of “seeing the mess”—especially within middle management and below—by rewarding only the achievement of tangible business metrics. What this reinforces is that instead of seeing potential, we see only the stress that chaos can bring. We see something that will get in the way of our meeting established business goals.

Chaos, however, brings with it possibility. Imagine that as a training and development practitioner you are tasked to coach a leader through a major change in his industry, a change that could render his business irrelevant if he stays on his current course. This event certainly can be stressful, and full of all of the negative side effects that accompany stress: headaches, stomachaches, lack of sleep, depression, feelings of inadequacy, and so forth. Now consider if instead you approached this event with a mindset that embraces the chaos of change. Think of all that now is possible in creating a new chapter, sending new life into an organization that was on the brink of irrelevance. Helping our clients who are leading these changes reframe their thinking in this way can be extremely powerful to how they approach such a situation.


Consider chaotic events in your own life that have shaped where you are today. I certainly can think of a few. For me, those events earlier in my life were not filled with the enthusiasm and excitement of possibility. They were full of fear and stress. Questions such as, “What am I going to do now?” and “How will I get past this?” ran through my head as the fear took over my body, making me physically ill. I felt small, unimportant, and inadequate. Just think of the kind of world I was creating, one that was just as small as I was feeling. Imagine if instead I embraced the chaos, empowered by all that was possible.

Now this is exactly how I approach situations cloaked with unknowns and chaos. Visionary is the FEBI energy pattern of personality that got me to this place (to read about the other three, see Driving Beyond Distractions, Giving Form to those Brilliant Ideas, and The Power of Play). The Visionary is a pattern of no pattern—it is about big picture thinking, future orientation, and connecting with the essence of situations and thriving in the unknown. For me, a strong Organizer/Driver, this was not a natural pattern. It had to be cultivated. When I approached chaos as an Organizer, especially when the solution could not be known immediately, fear and stress ensued. When I learned instead to approach these situations as a Visionary, the fear subsided, and I felt full of all that was possible. This shift in emotion occurs because the Visionary is simply better in these situations. In fact, she thrives in them.

The next time you or your client is faced with chaos, try this exercise to approach such uncertainty with all of the possibility of the Visionary. With blank paper and a pen, find a quiet, open space. A park bench, a meadow, or near a body of water is a great space for this activity. Become aware of your breathing, let your body relax, and let your eyes soften to take in full peripheral vision, seeing the entire scene around you all at once. In the middle of the paper draw a circle and write the phrase, “What is possible now?” During the next 20 minutes, write any thought that pops into your head. You don’t have to think about it too hard, nor do the thoughts need to make sense now. Just keep feeling the flow of your breath and the bigness of the Visionary, and let ideas of all that is possible arise on their own.

After writing down a thought, rather than focusing on it, let it go and await the next thought. With this random smattering of possibilities in front of you, turn your page over and again draw a circle, except this time write the phrase, “What wants to happen here?” Again, take 20 minutes powered by the Visionary, and with this question write down whatever thoughts enter your head. By the end of this activity, look at your paper and see all that you wrote. Get in touch with the feeling this framing brings to whatever issue you were facing. Empowered by the Visionary, it will be difficult to find anything you can’t handle.

About the Author
Anthony Attan Ph.D is a consultant, coach, and researcher with Focus Leadership, LLC. He has particular expertise in FEBI-based coaching, leadership development, team facilitation, and creating effective virtual teams. He also led the research into validating the FEBI®, and co-developed a related instrument for teams, called the Focus Climate Indicator ™ (FCI ™). He has worked with many clients, including Precor, American Home Fitness, Novartis, and JNJ. He runs the process by which practitioners get certified in the FEBI, and serves as an ongoing coach and resource to the FEBI-certified network. Dr. Attan is a member of ASTD and the American Psychological Association. He holds a B.A. in Psychology, and an M.A and Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology.
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