Chaos vs. structure

Nov 05, 2018

If we want to grow as people and as firms, we have to first find the fine line, and then what’s on either side of it.

Choice breeds chaos, or so the saying goes. Even so, choice and its inherent disruptions are essential to growth. At least that’s what I believe. And in the context of the workplace, I think that choice is just as important as structure/process. The trick is finding the fine line between the two. To do that, we must first unpack the issue and take a good look at what’s inside.

I think we have sunken into a place where we assume young professionals are just a bunch of goodie seekers, using choice to find, and indulge in, what they think will please them. In Road to Character, one of my favorite authors, David Brooks, had this to say:

“The world has provided (contemporary young people) with a super abundance of neat things to do, naturally they hunger to seize every opportunity and taste every experience … terrified of missing out on anything that looks exciting. By not renouncing any of them (contemporary young people) spread themselves thin. What’s worse (contemporary young people) turn themselves into goodie seekers … exclusively focused on self. If you live in this way you turn into a shrewd tactician making a series of cautious semi-commitments without really surrendering to some larger purpose. You lose the ability to say 100 noes for the sake of one overwhelming and fulfilling yes.”

Admittedly, this is true of a wide swath of young professionals. We tend to see the shiny thing that is fleeting. It has no basis in an overall goal, it simply satisfies the itch that it has created. Our attraction to whatever it may be is based more out of fear of missing out than it is driven by purposeful need. But, can the same not be said about a wide swath of firms as well? Has choice turned into goodie seeking? Have you as a firm spread yourself so thin that you’re unable to focus on the one overwhelming and fulfilling yes? Does your firm constantly do “neat things” that do not fit into any strategy or goal? If it is done at the firm level, wouldn’t it be natural to expect it to seep into the day-to-day desires and habits of all its employees?

I oftentimes think of business as if it were a band, and the self-expression in it as the individual musicians. Because of this I can’t help but think of a recent article penned by singer/songwriter Lauryn Hill. In the article, there are two messages that are salient to this discussion – one from the artist and one from the band leader.

As a musician to a band leader, Hill said, “My approach to making music is non-traditional, possibly non-linear, and more a product of my heart, soul, and experience gained through doing, than something I was taught in a formal school setting.” There are an increasing number of young people that want to be a part of the band, but want to be a bit non-traditional, and want to engage the heart and soul through doing. Firms have to be open to the variance in humanity, and take pains not to dampen the fire that still burns to play the band’s/business’s song, just in their way.

As a band leader to her musician, Hill said, “No matter how incredible the musicians who play with me are, MY name is on the marquee. The expectation to make it all come together is on me. The risk and the financial losses are on me. Hence, MY VIBE, though not the only consideration, is the priority. Few people actually know what this road is like, but many want to judge and comment, having never done it.”

Today’s young professionals must understand the risks – professionally, personally, and financially – that leaders take, and appreciate the multitude of things pulling at their attention that have long-term, and potentially negative, effects on many people. Every crusade a young professional might wage is not important to senior leaders, a fact a young, autonomous professional must accept.

We all want to be our truest selves, both in our personal and professional lives. The battle for balance is ongoing – choice versus process, chaos versus structure. We need a bit of all of it to grow, as individuals and as firms.

Brenden Sherrer is a consultant with Zweig Group’s M&A services. He can be reached at

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