All great changes are preceded by chaos!

Deepak Chopra


Emergence is an act of creativity seen in nature, the way complex systems arise out of a diversity of relatively simple interactions. It appears in the complex symmetrical patterns of snowflakes, the ripple patterns in sand dunes, and in places like the Giant’s Causeway.

When a group of people come together as an effective change network, organizational emergence is evident. Simply stated, a collaborative collective is far more intelligent and powerful than the sum of its parts.

Witnessing these change networks emerge is pure alchemy. Even more powerful is the ability of these networks to create the space for systemic change in their organizations.

How do they do it? As with the concept of emergence, there is no ‘one plus one equals two’ answer. Both researchers and practitioners have come to the same understanding — that effective change leaders commit to creating a safe and courageous space for emerging:

• chaos rather than control
• conflict rather than harmony; and
• intelligent failures rather than perfection.

All are requirements of the creative process of transformation.

Change management focuses on implementing the structural processes of change. It controls the change initiative, using simple tools and structures to minimize distractions.

In contrast, change leadership requires different behaviours and skills than those involved in change management. It focuses on inspiring true urgency, influencing head, heart and gut, and emerging collective accountability.


In this process, there is potential for change to feel messy, edgy, risky—uncomfortable. This is normal!


Change leaders learn to live in the discomfort. As Bob Anderson shares, leadership is mastering the tension between safety and purpose.

Is your intention to inspire great organizational or social transformation? Smaller, less impactful changes that are more developmental or transitional in nature can often be managed with little chaos. If we are talking about great transformational changes in mindset and culture, expect chaos as part of the process. 

If there’s no chaos, perhaps it’s time to check the purpose of the change vision as truly transformational and banish mediocrity!

As Chopra reminds us, all great changes are preceded by chaos. The word ‘chaos’ is derived from the Greek ‘chasm’ — a break in continuity, a gap, an edge. As change leaders, when we commit to creating a safe and courageous space for chaos, we honour the change process. 


We lead people up to the edge of change, gape into the chasm of uncertainty, and allow for a diversity of conflicting emotions and thoughts to emerge.


Rather than attempting to quash those emotions and thoughts, or trying to force people to feel or think differently than they do, we allow the diversity of emotions and thoughts to unfold and mingle. Uncertainty and chaos transition into the creation of something new. Collaborative chaos allows for the influencing of hearts, heads and guts and collective accountability to emerge.


Conflict is the midwife to constructive change.

Marita Fridjhon


Many of us are conflict averse. We haven’t yet learned to develop a healthy relationship with conflict, personally or professionally.

Avoiding conflict does not lead to harmony. If only it was that easy! Unfortunately, attempts to quash conflict in self and others does not eliminate it. Conflict is still there, lurking under the radar and often toxic.

By creating a safe and courageous space, change leaders allow for the development of a healthy relationship with conflict. They empower all the voices of change to be spoken and heard — even the unpopular voices.

Often, these marginalized voices are critical to highlighting potential blind spots in change initiatives. This process can be the spark allowing creative and innovative thinking to emerge.


‘Mistakes are the portal to discovery.’

James Joyce


Let’s admit it, failure hurts. Yet if we never risk failure, we risk failing our own imagination. If we can learn from failure, it becomes a springboard to creative change. In a safe and courageous space, teams make mistakes and risk failing, but never fail to learn.

Taking advantage of what’s emerging requires awareness, intention, and skill. As you consider the change you hope to lead within your team, let answers to these questions emerge.

• Are you willing to risk chaos by allowing diverse emotions and thoughts to be heard?
• Where are you willing to hear a diversity of voices and risk conflict, or make mistakes and risk failure?
• Where do you dare to be a change leader?

Kerry Woodcock, Ph.D., leads change for a world of change, She coaches pioneers and influencers to amplify the power of relationship and lead over the edge of change. As Principal of Novalda, she develops change leadership capability in organizations and social systems.

Question | What support do you need to channel the chaos of change?

Novalda Coaching & Consulting Inc.