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Denis Gorshkov: Chaos Theory in Organization Management: Sometimes you just have to let it go

Denis Gorshkov: Chaos Theory in Organization Management: Sometimes you just have to let it go

I have never believed chaos would help me to stabilize my company and bring it to a new level, says Denis Gorshkov, CEO of Diatom Enterprises.

Discipline, planning, strict order… probably, those would be the concepts that would come to my mind 10 years ago when thinking of Organization Management. However, after letting the business develop as it might for some time, I have become a happier person and a more successful director. Let me share my thoughts with you.

We live in a world engulfed by chaos. Weather, market, technology, political events and even our own health are for the most part chaotic and unpredictable. In essence, all our lives we try to adapt to external unpredictable events majority of which seem to be of destructive nature; however this ‘seeming’ destructiveness is often a contributor to stability and evolution.

Similarly, an organisation be it a business or a non profit, in many ways is a living organism which constantly struggles to adapt to and survive the chaotic environment in which it exists. An organisation’s ability to survive depends by a large degree on management style. Some organisations thrive when there is a well defined chain of command and military like style of discipline whereas for other organisations such methods would be perilous. The very young and fast paced Information Technology industry is chaotic by its nature.

The traditional and conservative management style that seem to eradicate the chaos in reality only adds to it. Indeed, the common statistics reports that 75% of all IT projects fail to be completed on time and budget. Similarly, it is impossible to manage others’ creativity. You can’t command: “Please, increase your creativity by 130% by the end of the week”. This just does not make sense!

However, over the last decade we have been witnessing the change in management of IT development project. The new methodologies have gained wide popularity and one of them is ‘Agile Software Development’ whose philosophy embraces the unpredictability of the industry rather than vainly battling with it. We have also seen the change in the management style.

The new, modern way is allowing people themselves establish the chain of command rather than imposing it on them. It was not too easy to understand this in the beginning of my career. When starting my career path, I was trying to control everything: every single e-mail to a client would not be sent without my approval, every decision should be made only after my approval. I was sleeping in the office and over-working to make sure everything is under control.

However, it all changed suddenly. It was summer 2008. I broke my leg, was alone with my 5 years old child left with me for summer vacation and was managing a very difficult project from New York. It was our first large-scale project; the client was very demanding and we were doing our best to meet their expectations.

It was a Friday afternoon, when I received a call from my manager who told me the building where the company had its office was on fire. I said to take all the computers out and ran to the office. When I arrived, I saw that the floor above our office was on fire but the firemen have absolutely destoyed Diatom Enterprises’ office as well while attempting to extinguish the fire. I saw a scene, that I had only seen in movies: a flooded office, chairs, documents and computer mouses floating chaotically. It was a disaster. Everything was destroyed.

But suddenly I felt indifference. Due to a huge work load during the recent times, health problems and difficulties in the personal life, I realized I could not manage it any more and said to the team: “Please, find a new office and set it up, we need to finish the project”.

And miraculously, the work was done by my employees. The company did not want to die, people organized themselves to set up a new office, to get client’s understanding, to make the work happen. Somehow the company survived and we even became stronger.

At that time I realized that sometimes you need to step back. I realized that just as in childhood, nobody wants to be a loser. Everybody wants to become an astronaut, a president, an actor. In other words, everybody wants to succeed.

Director’s or manager’s role is to give those talented and initiative people ability to do their best and not to interfere. Executive’s job is to find those talented and creative people and after hiring them, to create such conditions so that they are able to step out, to show the initiative, to fail and understand their mistakes. That would be the only way for those people to develop and to show the best they can.

It is impossible to predict many events in our life. They are chaotic and happen without our permission. However, we can adapt to them. Moreover, in a group of creative people such chaotic and disastrous events are catalysts to new revelations: people can show their best in their personalities, develop and grow professionally and personally.

I would like to round up on a philosophic note. I have been thinking a lot about the goal of an organisation. One may say that it is to get profit. However, it would be as foolish as believing that the meaning of our life is to eat and sleep. Profit is a means to an end. The goal of life is to be successful, to be happy and develop. Happiness and success are not static statements. You cannot tick a box as in surveys: “Tick! I was happy/successful today! I’m a happy and successful person!”

Happiness and success are continuous processes. And I think the goal of an organization is to develop by giving its people a chance to show their best and grow personally and professionally. The same as with happiness and success, the development of an organisation is not static either. Life goes on, chaotic events have happened and will
happen again. And the best way to try to manage everything is to let it happen and step back.

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