When it was time to pick a school for my youngest daughter, we visited a few to see which one would be a good fit. The first one was the most prestigious, and it showed. They were well prepared, all the information was readily available, and nothing was left to chance.
The second school we visited was utter chaos. The teacher was late, she was sweating, and her face was red because she was dealing with some kind of issue with a bunch of kids in the other classroom. I can imagine a lot of people would lose their patience when being met with such ‘unprofessional’ behavior — but I loved it.
It wasn’t just the chaos I liked, it was what was causing it.
I could see that her first priority was the students’ wellbeing. Everything she did and said reflected that. She didn’t produce a perfect video or booklet, and her presentation wasn’t even that well-rehearsed. But it was clear she cared and she was ready to drop everything to help students. That’s why we chose that school for our daughter (but I’m also just a big sucker for chaos).
Over the next few years, I saw school newsletters going out late and important events not always being announced on time. There were basically a lot of little things that didn’t really go as planned, but the kids loved it because the big picture was all about them.
The school also reflected our own household. I remember duct-taping my daughter’s coat closed (I’m not great at sewing) while she was already late for school. I remember stuffing leftover sushi in a bag because I had forgotten to buy fresh bread.
Basically, I remember not remembering a lot of things — but I know our kids grew up in a household filled with love and attention.
It wasn’t maybe the cleanest or the most organized household, but it was very compatible with a school that also had the wellbeing of their kids as their first priority.
I thought about that school and our experience with it when I read this popular quote attributed to Germans when they were at war with the US:
“The reason the American Army does so well in wartime, is that war is chaos, and the American Army practices it on a daily basis.”
It’s both an insult and a compliment, and the ambivalence of that makes it interesting. I also relate to it in a personal way, as I find chaos often comfortable because I’m a deeply chaotic person.
When a lot is happening around me and structure seems to be missing, I’m both inspired and energized. I love finding patterns in things, and I somehow become relaxed when others are stressing out.
I also think a chaotic situation can be fertile ground for new ideas. When you envision an inspiring environment, my guess is it will be a space with lots of stimulants. Music, images, tools, colors, and all that jazz. Not a clean sterile room with white walls and nothing to interact with.
But… that’s me. It is also important to remember that your friends, children, or employees might have the opposite experience and need order and quietness to perform well.
The goal is to not enforce the wrong structure on your team. Find out who thrives in chaos and who needs order to perform well within your organization.