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The Chaos Imperative: How Chance and Disruption Increase Innovation, Effectiveness, and Success Hardcover – Aug 13 2013

5.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Crown Business (Aug. 13 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307886670
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307886675
  • Product Dimensions: 14.6 x 2.2 x 21.7 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 358 g
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #309,364 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


“This useful and practical book will be welcomed by managers looking for new ways to innovate.” -Publishers Weekly

About the Author

ORI BRAFMAN has an MBA in organizational studies from Stanford Business School and consults with and speaks to Fortune 500 companies on organization, disruption, and innovation. Brafman is the coauthor of the New York Times bestseller Sway, as well as the bestselling and critically acclaimed book The Starfish and the Spider. For the past two years, he has worked closely with the US Army on a training program that introduces chaos theory into the Army's decision-making.

JUDAH POLLACK is a regular speaker at UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business, as well TEDx conferences around the country. An expert in the field of leadership, Pollack has worked with Google, SAP, and Oracle, as well as with the Special Forces and the Army's senior leadership. Most recently he developed a program to help returning soldiers reintegrate into non-combat military life from the experience of war.

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
According to Ori Brafman and Judah Pollack, one of the most valuable lessons to be learned from the Black Death plague in the 14th century is that its destructive power "turned out to be the crucible in which the modern Western world was forged...Chaos creates white space, which in turn allows unusual suspects [i.e. iconoclasts, outliers, mavericks, oddballs, etc.] to sweep in. The result is a kind of organized serendipity, or what [they] call "contained chaos." Organizations need to have a workplace environment within which there is a constant flow of "unusual ideas," ideas that threaten what James O'Toole so aptly characterizes as "the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom."

The U.S. Army offers an excellent case in point. Like the medieval Church, it is "a massive bureaucracy with a power, entrenched, values-driven culture and a clear sense of purpose. The danger for an organization like is [and for any other] is that it can become too structured. It can eliminate all white space. Unusual suspects are given no voice, and new ideas are stifled. The overhanging canopy of an organization's structure can sometimes block out too much sunlight to allow new ideas to grow."

What to do?

1. Create white spaces for "contained chaos"
2. Insert unusual suspects in those spaces
3. Allow "organized serendipity" to occur

These are among the dozens of business subjects and issues of special interest and value to me, also listed to indicate the scope of Brafman and Pollack's coverage.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0xa4976e58) out of 5 stars 67 reviews
33 of 35 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa49f27e0) out of 5 stars A lotta, lotta white space Aug. 15 2013
By Aaron C. Brown - Published on
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
This book describes a three-year consulting project one of the authors did for the US Army, interspersed with a wide variety of stories illustrating the virtues of contained chaos. The writing is smooth and clear, the book is a quick read. However, the reader is not left with much at the end.

The prerequisite for contained chaos is "white space." This is never defined in the book and has different meanings in different stories. In the Black Plague, it refers to the death of a quarter of the European population, which cleared out competition so some "unusual suspects" (in the authors' phrase) could thrive. That's a reasonable concept. But in the worldwide dispersion of coconut palms, the white space is the empty ocean that provides a barrier to competition rather than a place for coconuts to grow.

Okay, so you think white space is anything that reduces competition. But in the story of Kary Mullis, the white space is an advisor who shields him not from competition, but from being forced into conventional paths or dismissed from the school. For Fletcher Henderson, it is the racism that denied him a career as a chemist and forced him into music. That was no protection, no emptiness, no removal of competition. White space also refers to what your brain does when you're not concentrating on something, the lack of preconception that outsiders bring to a problem, what you start with if you ignore conventional assumptions, government money (I think because it removes the pressure to fund yourself), and any lack of regimentation or any freedom. Tellingly, white space is also refusal to subject your methods to objective validation, something that proves very handy for one of the authors when the Army tries to determine the effectiveness of his consulting project.

My best guess at a definition is white space is any negative force or removed constraint or emptiness that helps someone or something succeed in an unconventional way. Nassim Taleb calls this via negativa, "So knowledge grows by subtraction much more than by addition--given that what we know today might turn out to be wrong but what we know to be wrong cannot turn out to be right, at least not easily." While I think there is a lot of insight in this view, you won't get it from this book. The definitions are so imprecise that any story can be fit into the mold, meaning that the stories add nothing to the argument.

Separately, the stories are not very accurate on their own. The asteroid impact at the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary did not increase biodiversity, as the authors claim, but reduced it dramatically. The story that the bubonic plague caused nobles to leave their wealth to universities instead of the church, resulting in university-trained priests overthrowing medieval dogmatism and sparking 150 years of philosophical and technological progress in Europe is silly (the plague certainly changed a lot of things, some of which were important precursors to the Renaissance, but this particular vector is wrong, and no one has any idea how history would have been written without the plague). Kary Mullis is an unconventional character, but his PCR work was done in a conventional way, and cannot be credibly linked to academic protection offered 15 years earlier. Anyway, it's not so much that the stories are factually incorrect, it's that they're much too shallow to be useful illustrating the white space concept. The one thread that runs through the book, the Army consulting project, is just random bits and pieces, it never goes anywhere.

The advice in the last chapter is the opposite of what I expected. Only the first rule is subtractive, avoid data and measurements. Even this one is not chaotic in principle, data and measurement have often overturned conventional wisdom, without them it's hard to see how you get people to change anything. Also, I'm skeptical of people who recommend this, in my experience it means data and measurement don't favor their ideas.

The other four rules are all addition, no subtraction, and it is all containment to limit chaos. Rule 2 is "Remember it's called organized chaos." It consists of admonitions to make sure there's plenty of organization and constraints, so small amounts of chaos can spark their magic. As far as I'm concerned, that is to chaos what breeding is to evolution, the attempt to direct a process that depends essentially on randomness.

Rule 3 urges us to make our white space productive, which means it's no longer white space. Rule 4 is another positive admonition, embrace unusual suspects. That may sound as if it adds to chaos, but the details tell you to avoid the really unusual people and find a comfortable mildly eccentric suspect close to home. Rule 5, organize serendipity, is like rule 3 in that it destroys what it purports to seek.

There are a lot of words in this 224-page book, but if you boiled it down to the clear and useful information, it would consist almost entirely of white space.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa4978ccc) out of 5 stars How to Create Room for Creativity and Innovation July 16 2013
By bronx book nerd - Published on
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
This is yet another book that claims to have found the way to create room for creativity and innovation. Three things need to be done: create white space, or, set aside time to allow for creative thinking. This white space can be simply detaching from the current problem and doing something else. This has been suggested before by other writers. What seems to be new in this book is its presentation of neuroscience as evidence that our brains are doing a lot when we daydream or do "mindless" tasks. This is the most fascinating content of the book because it confirms that our minds are always at work, even, and maybe especially, when we are "vegging out". Second, you need to recruit "unusual suspects" or people who have a different point of view. This is also something that is common in the creativity literature. Personally I am tired of the Kary Mullis example. He is the scientist who came up with a technique for copying strands of DNA and advanced DNA processes by leaps and bounds. However, reinforcement of this story gives the impression that you have to be some kind of far out personality to come up with great ideas and that is just simply not so. Additionally, the author's example of the work he has done with the Army is actually not very impressive. I did not see any real breakthroughs that were shared other than perhaps some personal insights from army officers partaking in his exercises. The third thing to do is to provide for "organized serendipity" or in other words processes or environments that encourage and promote the free exchange of ideas. All of these are well and good but frankly most of the author's example have been around for years. My concern is also that for these types of theories, it is not that hard to go back in time and fit events and history into your model. Others have posited different phenomena for great advances, like the intersection of different cultures, for example. I am not sure that the author's case is fully convincing to account for large historical changes, although it may work for some of the individual breakthroughs and insights cited. Perhaps the biggest value of the book, however, is that the writing fills one with hope that breakthrough change and ideas are truly possible given the right combination of circumstances and people, and these are things that can be consciously created.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa49f2d44) out of 5 stars Anecdotes and vague ideas Oct. 16 2013
By Rawim - Published on
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Working in the public sector I try to read as many books on leadership as I can get my hands on. I have always figured when it came to motivating your average government employee, you need as much help as you can get. So naturally I was intrigued by the concept of "The Chaos Imperative", especially with a subtitle of "How change and disruption increase innovation, effectiveness and success." Since most of the time I have been in government, I have found that what was supposed to be organized and orderly was actually a giant mess, I thought "Hey maybe we are already doing this chaos imperative thing already and we just don't know it?" No such luck.

The main thrust of the book is the author's work concluding with the U.S. Army on the topic of leadership. This is then interspersed with anecdotes of similar occurrences from all sort of other fields and place.

So what does the author tell us to look for, "White Space" now if this were a dissertation I would have to deduct points because there is no real definition or theory of what white space is and how to use it. Maybe that is the chaos inherent in the book, and we have to figure it out?

From what I could gather, "white space" is allowing room for a sort of semi-controlled chaos; a place where the unusual and unlikely can be allowed to exist and experiment without standard repercussions and measurements of success. There are several different stories that refer to some form of this "White Space" but it at felt like they were just interesting stories of unusual success being brought together.

You know, now that I think of it, this book kind of reminds me of a Malcolm Gladwell book, but without a strong central theme, nor quite as interesting to read.

So yeah, I think that sums it up. A book about leadership written in a Gladwell-esque style. That would be my best description. I personally did not get much out of this book. But maybe I was interpreting it wrong, could be. For a long time I just thought Green Eggs & Ham was about eating breakfast.

If you have any questions about the book feel free to leave a comment below and I will be happy to try and answer.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa499b318) out of 5 stars "Chaos" is with us and it's working Dec 18 2013
By Doug - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Read the book, read the reviews. Unfortunately, many of the reviewers don't seem to get the point and insist on analyzing the book instead of just reading it. I don't believe Brafman is advocating a new way of doing things, and if you are not a "chaotic" type to start with, you will get no benefit from reading his book. It is simply informing us of an underground strain of thinking and action which exists and is the prime mechanism for actually getting the work done, while the Poindexters grind up the majority of any given budget with agenda, "action plans" (what is that anyway? Is there an inaction plan?). In engineering, this mechanism is knnown as a "skunkworks"; people doing what they are ill-qualified to do, with resources they don't possess, using money secreted from other projects. Guerrilla warfare is another example. The work gets done, and the establishment takes credit, believing that it was achieved in the "systematic and orderly fashion" beloved of MBas, but it is really the product of a totally different, low profile, parallel activity that refuses to rise to the surface for the very realistic fear that "organization man" will descend on it and kill progress with organization. Mr Brafman may be guilty of a disservice by uncovering a valuable mechanism that works better when nobody knows about it.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa4bdb774) out of 5 stars Not just for business managers, but useful for teachers, creative individuals, and just about anyone with an open, creative mind Sept. 24 2013
By Neal Reynolds - Published on
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
I should have included high school and college students as those who can gain from this book.

The concept is simple. The authors list three conditions for stimulating creativity and innovation. The one condition that most readers will most benefit from is what is called "white space". This term is clearly defined time and time again as space and time in which the individual can think and act freely without supervision. We are given many examples in which notable ideas have been born. One of the most notable pointed out is how students as a whole perform better when there's a fair amount of free time scheduled.

My only complaint is that the simple concept is repeated over and over again through numerous examples. However, I very much enjoyed reading the entire book, so that complaint of mine isn't a big deal. Very highly recommended.