Chaos Theory - The big impact of the smallest things…

As I’m settling in to my new role of GM here at Halogen, I’ve been reflecting on our current theme for The National Young Leaders Day, “Master the Little”, and every day I’m struck by a new and different way that ‘the little things’ make such a profound impact. This is true in so many dimensions of our lives and experience – not just the development of a meaningful leadership identity, but in everything, from the most trivial and irritating, like a mozzie bite that itches so furiously and keeps you awake all night, to the spark that starts a raging bushfire, or the virus causing a global pandemic.

As a careers adviser a few years ago, I listened to Professor Jim Bright, from the Australian Catholic University speak about the applicability of chaos theory to careers and work.  In planning our futures we often presume a level of predictability that just isn’t there. We try to predict what job we will enjoy on the basis of a skills and interests quiz. We constrain the range of opportunities we are willing to pursue on the basis of what works for us at this current time.  But life isn’t linear, and the conditions of one day can’t be replicated on the next. Like that movie from the 90’s, Sliding Doors so clearly demonstrates, the smallest, most mundane event – such as missing a train – can have the most significant impact on our lives and the intersecting lives of those around us.

So how then, in this chaotic and completely unpredictable world, where little things throw us so completely off course, can we harness their power and make them work for us in the quest to lead ourselves and others well? I think there are a few things to try.

Be open – even if a small opportunity seems poorly timed or incongruent with where you are currently – file it. Look for ways that you might be able to utilise it anyway, maybe only in a limited sense for now. Who knows what train you might miss tomorrow…

See the value in failing.  In a world full of chance little events, it is naïve to think that success is a given.  We’re conditioned as we mature, to see failure as wasted time and effort. How wrong that it is! Mastery, even of the little things, takes practise. When you were small, did you not learn to count 1,2,3, because you weren’t able to do it perfectly straight away?

Look for patterns. When we are embroiled in a situation, it is likely to appear far more chaotic and random that it really is. This morning I was caught outside in the midst of a rainstorm. The thousands of tiny drops didn’t fall in any sort of orderly pattern and I couldn’t predict how many of them would sneak in under my generally ineffective umbrella. However, had I been watching a satellite image of the storm, or viewing it from a more distant perspective, I would have clearly been able to see that the storm had shape, size, beginning and end – a pattern. And that information would have been very helpful in enabling me to stay dry!

Chaos theory asserts that even the tiniest change in conditions can have enormous consequences on future events. By adopting a leadership attitude of flexibility, open mindedness and resilience – and always keeping an eye on the bigger picture - we can harness the infinite power of the little and make a real impact.

I’d love to hear about the times when the littlest thing really turned your world around, tell us your story #masterthelittle

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