The Weird Paradox of Chaos

What is the new normal? What’s the next normal?  What even is normal?

Every marketing team I speak to these days is doing one of three things. They’re preparing for a reorganization, they’re in the midst of a reorganization, or they’re emerging from a reorganization.

I have no idea if it’s factually true, but it feels true.

In all three instances, I’m finding this weird paradox. Everyone wants to do meaningful things, but no one wants to start anything meaningful – including, ironically, me. How do you even begin to plan for the now when you don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring for you or your clients or your audience?

I’ve been working with a tech company CMO for the last six months. The company has done well despite the dumpster fire that is 2020. Still, the CEO and the board didn’t think the company was moving fast enough. They suggested a complete reorganization of the product, marketing, and sales teams.

The CMO successfully explained to her leadership colleagues why this was a bad idea. Unfortunately, during the weeks she was making her case, rumors began to fly. Even she didn’t know how it would all turn out.

Eventually, the reorganization was put on hold. But, in the meantime, the marketing and sales teams and even vendors (including yours truly) panicked or acted irrationally. And it cost the teams months of progress.    

People typically respond to chaos in one of three ways: We freeze, we get chaotic ourselves, or we continue down the path we laid. 

When we freeze, we seek safety in inactivity. We say things like, “I’m not taking a risk on that cool, interesting new initiative. I’ll keep my head down, wait for chaos to strike, and then figure out how to deal with it.”

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, hoping people will see us as productive and leave us alone.

Continuing down the path is the most helpful response. We 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 don’t. Tomorrow is always the next normal, the new normal. And there is always a tomorrow.

I’ve learned that when I sense chaos is coming – changes I’ll have little control over – I find little comfort in hiding in inactivity. And I get no satisfaction from distracted hyperactivity. But I do and peace in hugging the chaos. I have faith in myself. No matter what comes, I feel confident I can create a future I want to be part of.

The more chaos we experience, the more faith in ourselves we need. And 2020 has served us a heaping platter of the need for faith in ourselves. 

It’s funny. Rational thought, which seems at its surface to conflict with faith, now depends on the faith we have in ourselves.

It’s your story. Tell it well.

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