When Worlds Collide: The Clash of Linearity and Chaos – Workshop Tip #253

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Looking back at early 2019, who would have thought that in just a matter of weeks, the world, including anyone and everyone, would experience rapid and extreme changes to their lives as the pandemic soared?

Can anyone explain how this happened to the world in a logical and linear way?  At this point in time, the answer is definitely NO.  Indeed, our world is full of wonder and complexity.

Breaking Normal

Various crises continue to challenge and disrupt conventional norms of doing work and relating with one another.  Our “once normal” practices and habits can no longer explain how to get things done in a linear, logical way.

What is required of us are new ways of thinking, relating, and performing at work. This holds true in our social interactions as they have also evolved and changed. 

Esko Kilpi, in his article, Complexity revisited, aptly states:

Thus, logic and linear thinking alone now becomes inadequate to deal with the dynamics of human beings in social systems.

Kilpi further states, 

He brings in the Chaos Theory which:

Chaos and Sense Making in the Workflow

The question for us is now: Do complexity and chaos theory concepts apply and relate directly to the Workflow Learning process?

From the perspective of trainers and instructional designers, the answer to the challenge of relevance and applicability is a DEFINITE YES.

As we integrate Workflow Learning, we see complexity and linearity co-exist or overlap. The next question is: How do we make sense of the world around us?

One skill that is needed is “sense making,” which is the ability to seek patterns and trends out of the complexities. These patterns lead us to making decisions and taking action.

Questions Lead to Clarity

Let me share an instance where I once interviewed a nuclear facility engineer and asked:

“What happens when the procedures conflict? How would you decide what to do?”

He responded, 

“Look for the patterns that lead to critical impacts and consequences.”

Questions are necessary to help learners, designers, and leaders think through complex issues. I call these types of questions “complex sense making questions.”

Using questions is a powerful strategy that provides answers and solutions to the ongoing disruption and chaos that organizations are currently facing. 

In Summary

We may not know where challenging situations will take us. Most breakdowns in the workplace are caused by a lack of awareness of the impact of decisions and behaviors in the organization.

What we can do is explore options, discover ways, and adapt to this complexity. We must be more sensitive than ever, even if it means using our “senses” to its maximum, to be able to adapt to the current situation and needs.

Questions provide a powerful way to create “sense making” in the chaos and complexity.


Tip #232 – How Do We Think What We Think?
Kilpi, Elsko (2019), Complexity Revisited

Ray Jimenez, PhD
Vignettes Learning
“Helping Learners Learn Their Way”

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