Chaos for Fun and Profit

The Upside of Uncertainty

Ever heard of Dan Peña? He’s a quirky and fascinating man, a real life rags-to-riches bootstrap multi-millionaire who taught himself to build net worth by taking over huge corporations and either running them better or selling off the mismatched parts and reinvesting the new cash (which is basically the same thing).

A while back, Peña wrote in his Quantum Leap Advantage newsletter that:

” … the biggest opportunities come from where the most chaos exists. In conjunction with this notion, always put your best people on the biggest opportunity — not the biggest problems.”

Dan also referred to a CNN online article titled “Chaos by Design.”

The article points out that Google has created itself — $125 billion in just 8 years (at the time the article was written) — by riding on the edge of chaos.

“Take the case of Sheryl Sandberg, a 37-year-old vice president whose fiefdom includes the company’s automated advertising system. Sandberg recently committed an error that cost Google several million dollars — “Bad decision, moved too quickly, no controls in place, wasted some money,” is all she’ll say about it — and when she realized the magnitude of her mistake, she walked across the street to inform Larry Page, Google’s co-founder and unofficial thought leader. “God, I feel really bad about this,” Sandberg told Page, who accepted her apology.

“But as she turned to leave, Page said something that surprised her. “I’m so glad you made this mistake,” he said. “Because I want to run a company where we are moving too quickly and doing too much, not being too cautious and doing too little. If we don’t have any of these mistakes, we’re just not taking enough risk.”

Riding on risk … are you taking chances? I don’t mean choosing the blue tie instead of the green one, or the suede pumps instead of the patent leather heels.

I’m talking about RISK in capital letters. Stuff you can’t really control; you can only jump on and ride it. Like a surfer rides a wave, right there on the curling edge of change.

I was once a member of a mastermind group where I met a bunch of great new friends. One of the members mentioned that his hobby is white-water canoeing. In fact, it’s not just a hobby, it’s a passion. He’s out there in the white water just about every weekend.

He described the experience like this:

“You first look at a rapid and size it up, see if you want to try it. If you do, you go over the edge and then you’re in it. You can’t quit halfway down, you have to go all the way through with it.”

He’s talking about commitment there.

Once you’re in, you go all the way through, the best way you know how. You don’t decide halfway down that you’d rather just get out and walk.

But aren’t most of the people you know doing just the opposite? They look for the safest, least exciting path, the “sure thing.” And even then — if things get the least bit uncomfortable — they’ll bail out and quit … go looking for a safer, surer thing.

You’ve probably heard many times that high achievers make their decisions rapidly and change their minds rarely. Again, this is just the opposite of what most people do.

Achievers dive in, and then, no matter what comes, they MAKE IT WORK. They’re committed to the hilt in everything they tackle.

Of course, people who jump into chaos do make mistakes, usually a lot of them. But they also learn and gain skills as they go forward. They get better at it, just as the white-water canoer gets better. And just as the surfer learns to stay on the wave longer.

Think about it — doesn’t the word “opportunity” MEAN change?

Can you imagine finding any opportunity — any opportunity at all — under conditions where everything is always and unvaryingly the same? Of course you can’t. It’s a contradiction in terms.

And if you want opportunity, you’re going to have to swim out to where the waves are, then when one comes along, you’ll need to stand up on your board and work like crazy to keep your balance and ride as far as you can.

And again, if you want opportunity, you’re going to have to hike out to where the rapids are, and when you find one that looks exciting, you’ll need to put your canoe into the water, let yourself be pulled into the current and carried over the edge while you paddle your hardest to keep your canoe pointed more or less forward and your head up instead of down.

Of course, when you do that you’ll have an incredible ride. You’ll also quickly gain new skills that let you take on even more exciting rides.

After all, isn’t that what opportunities are? Exciting, fascinating rides out there on the curling edge of chaos. Out there where you can enjoy using ALL your skills even as you build new ones.

Now answer this next question quickly, without thinking about it:

Do these ideas scare you or excite you?

Your answer will tell you exactly who you are and where you’re headed.