Hug the Chaos

I’m on the last leg of my 2018 Content Marketing Master Class tour, and (like every year) I’ve learned as much as I’ve taught. If there’s a theme this year, I’d say it’s all about dealing with the chaos of uncertainty. In short: How do you even begin to plan for the now, when you don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring?

For example, three people in my San Francisco class worked for a big company that specializes in technology services for small businesses. They told me they’d grown their central content team into a juggernaut. But when a new digital marketing VP got hired, the rumor mill went into overdrive, spreading word that this new executive, like Solomon with the proverbial baby, planned to divide the team and give pieces to other parts of the business: a couple of people to PR, a couple to product marketing, a couple to the brand team.

This rumor turned out to be untrue. Still, people panicked and acted irrationally. And it cost them months of progress.

In business we typically respond to impending chaos in one of three ways: we freeze, we get chaotic ourselves, or we continue down the path we’ve laid. 

When we freeze, we seek safety in inactivity. We say something like “I’m not moving forward on that cool, interesting new initiative. I’m keeping my head down. I’ll wait for chaos to strike, and then I’ll figure out how to deal with it. Meanwhile, I’m taking no risks.”

At the other extreme, when we get chaotic ourselves, we seek safety in hyperactivity. We try all kinds of new things in anticipation of the chaos as if to say, “What do we have to lose?” We flail around, moving in every direction at once and making a lot of noise. We hope that people will see us as productive and leave us alone.

The most helpful response – moving forward down our laid path – requires us to embrace chaos, accepting that it will come again, and again, and again. We get in the game. We keep our sanity. We seek ways to contribute strategic value through our work. Sometimes we win. Sometimes we do not.

As content practitioners, which is to say as storytellers, we are well equipped to embrace chaos.

For us, every great story starts at a place where we don’t know how things will turn out. When we create a story, we face the unknown. We bring curiosity, creativity, and skill to bear as we piece together what happens next, and what happens next, and what happens after that.

The next time you sense a reorg coming and you know that you’ll have little control over the changes about roll over you, what will you do? Will you seek safety in inactivity? Will you seek safety in hyperactivity?

Or will you summon your imagination and your wisdom – in the face of the unknown – and create just the right plot twist that inspires you and those around you? Will you help create a future that you want to be part of?

I suggest this option. Hug the chaos. It just might hug you back.

It’s your story. Tell it well.

Robert Rose
Chief Strategy Officer at The Content Advisory
As the Chief Strategy Officer of The Content Advisory, the exclusive education and consulting group of The Content Marketing Institute, Robert develops content and customer experience strategies for large enterprises such as The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Oracle, McCormick Spices, Capital One, and UPS.

Robert’s book, Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing was called “a call to arms and a self-help guide for creating the experiences that consumers will fall in love with.” For the last three years, he’s co-hosted the podcast This Old Marketing, with Joe Pulizzi. It’s frequently a top 20 marketing podcast on iTunes and is downloaded more than a million times every year, in 100 countries around the world.
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Author: Robert Rose
As the Chief Strategy Officer of The Content Advisory, the exclusive education and consulting group of The Content Marketing Institute, Robert develops content and customer experience strategies for large enterprises such as The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Oracle, McCormick Spices, Capital One, and UPS. Robert’s book, Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing was called “a call to arms and a self-help guide for creating the experiences that consumers will fall in love with.” For the last three years, he’s co-hosted the podcast This Old Marketing, with Joe Pulizzi. It’s frequently a top 20 marketing podcast on iTunes and is downloaded more than a million times every year, in 100 countries around the world.