August 8, 2013
Jack Covert Selects: Jack Covert Selects - Chaos Imperative
The Chaos Imperative: How Chance and Disruption Increase Innovation, Effectiveness, and Success by Ori Brafman, Crown Business, 230 pages, $24.00, Hardcover, August 2013, ISBN 9780307886675
An important piece of Ori Brafman’s new book is its starting point. While announcing the purchase of Gillette in 2005, Proctor & Gamble’s A.G. Lafley somewhat famously said, “You have to ask yourself whether you’re inherently a commodity business or inherently an innovation business.” And, as P&G’s recent history has demonstrated, the commodities business is tough and uncertain. So, Brafman has made the assumption that you’re interested in innovation, because it is likely you’ve realized it’s the only way to stay afloat. But how do you make innovation happen? Brafman’s answer to this question is both surprising and enticing: chaos.
The Chaos Imperative offers more structure than you might assume from its title. Brafman presents a surprisingly “common sense” explanation of why chaos is essential to innovation. His three key prerequisites for innovation via chaos are: white space, unusual suspects, and organized serendipity. He shows how Google has woven white space into its organizational culture by adopting their now famous 20% time, and tells of many well-known organizations that have instituted similar practices. Brafman offers an example from Europe’s Renaissance to explain the value of unusual suspects or outsiders. In the wake of the Black Death, he explains, churches in Europe—institutes of power and influence—were in need of help because of high mortality rates among the priesthood. The vacancies left after the pandemic forced the church to open its doors to progressive minds fresh out of the universities, and these “unusual suspects” changed Europe’s trajectory.
The third prerequisite, organized serendipity, is a bit different because it’s simply not possible without the first two ingredients, and with white space and outsider perspectives, organized serendipity is nearly unavoidable. Brafman includes ample neurological research mid-way through the book to show how the brain “at rest” is actually very “active,” and how the white space afforded an off-task brain provides the brain with opportunities to process information and outsider perspectives it has already gathered. Give your brain a break and it becomes an innovation machine.
Ori Brafman is a wonderful storyteller, which is a boon that any business book can benefit from. The anecdotes in The Chaos Imperative go far in demonstrating the author’s points, and it is clear that Brafman has a great understanding of the implications of events and their relationships to each other. As either a beginner’s guide to innovation in the workplace, or a volume of inspiring case studies to the innovation addict, The Chaos Imperative delivers.