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The Chaos Imperative: How Chance and Disruption Increase Innovation, Effectiveness, and Success + The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Brafman and Pollack, organizational and leadership experts, respectively, explain their thesis on the need for “contained chaos” in our personal and work lives so that new and creative ideas can emerge “out of nowhere.” Framing their argument within case studies, including the U.S. Army, Brafman and Pollack explain that while organizational structure and hierarchy are essential in both large corporations and small groups, they stifle creativity. A small amount of “controlled chaos” confined within certain borders can benefit an organization’s overall well-being. Elements of chaos include “white space,” or time off from organized work to allow innovation and new ideas to take root; meetings without agendas; renegades, or those who don’t fit into the group’s traditional profile of participants; and planned serendipity, or engaging as many aspects of your organization as possible in problem solving. This small, excellent book offers thought-provoking insights for a wide range of library patrons as they face complicated challenges personally and within their businesses large and small. A must read. --Mary Whaley


“This useful and practical book will be welcomed by managers looking for new ways to innovate.” -Publishers Weekly

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Crown Business (August 13, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307886670
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307886675
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 0.9 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (64 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #693,747 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Aaron C. Brown TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 15, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This book describes a three-year consulting project one of the authors did for the US Army, interspersed with a wide variety of stories illustrating the virtues of contained chaos. The writing is smooth and clear, the book is a quick read. However, the reader is not left with much at the end.

The prerequisite for contained chaos is "white space." This is never defined in the book and has different meanings in different stories. In the Black Plague, it refers to the death of a quarter of the European population, which cleared out competition so some "unusual suspects" (in the authors' phrase) could thrive. That's a reasonable concept. But in the worldwide dispersion of coconut palms, the white space is the empty ocean that provides a barrier to competition rather than a place for coconuts to grow.

Okay, so you think white space is anything that reduces competition. But in the story of Kary Mullis, the white space is an advisor who shields him not from competition, but from being forced into conventional paths or dismissed from the school. For Fletcher Henderson, it is the racism that denied him a career as a chemist and forced him into music. That was no protection, no emptiness, no removal of competition. White space also refers to what your brain does when you're not concentrating on something, the lack of preconception that outsiders bring to a problem, what you start with if you ignore conventional assumptions, government money (I think because it removes the pressure to fund yourself), and any lack of regimentation or any freedom. Tellingly, white space is also refusal to subject your methods to objective validation, something that proves very handy for one of the authors when the Army tries to determine the effectiveness of his consulting project.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By bronx book nerd VINE VOICE on July 16, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is yet another book that claims to have found the way to create room for creativity and innovation. Three things need to be done: create white space, or, set aside time to allow for creative thinking. This white space can be simply detaching from the current problem and doing something else. This has been suggested before by other writers. What seems to be new in this book is its presentation of neuroscience as evidence that our brains are doing a lot when we daydream or do "mindless" tasks. This is the most fascinating content of the book because it confirms that our minds are always at work, even, and maybe especially, when we are "vegging out". Second, you need to recruit "unusual suspects" or people who have a different point of view. This is also something that is common in the creativity literature. Personally I am tired of the Kary Mullis example. He is the scientist who came up with a technique for copying strands of DNA and advanced DNA processes by leaps and bounds. However, reinforcement of this story gives the impression that you have to be some kind of far out personality to come up with great ideas and that is just simply not so. Additionally, the author's example of the work he has done with the Army is actually not very impressive. I did not see any real breakthroughs that were shared other than perhaps some personal insights from army officers partaking in his exercises. The third thing to do is to provide for "organized serendipity" or in other words processes or environments that encourage and promote the free exchange of ideas. All of these are well and good but frankly most of the author's example have been around for years. My concern is also that for these types of theories, it is not that hard to go back in time and fit events and history into your model.Read more ›
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Rawim on October 16, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Working in the public sector I try to read as many books on leadership as I can get my hands on. I have always figured when it came to motivating your average government employee, you need as much help as you can get. So naturally I was intrigued by the concept of "The Chaos Imperative", especially with a subtitle of "How change and disruption increase innovation, effectiveness and success." Since most of the time I have been in government, I have found that what was supposed to be organized and orderly was actually a giant mess, I thought "Hey maybe we are already doing this chaos imperative thing already and we just don't know it?" No such luck.

The main thrust of the book is the author's work concluding with the U.S. Army on the topic of leadership. This is then interspersed with anecdotes of similar occurrences from all sort of other fields and place.

So what does the author tell us to look for, "White Space" now if this were a dissertation I would have to deduct points because there is no real definition or theory of what white space is and how to use it. Maybe that is the chaos inherent in the book, and we have to figure it out?

From what I could gather, "white space" is allowing room for a sort of semi-controlled chaos; a place where the unusual and unlikely can be allowed to exist and experiment without standard repercussions and measurements of success. There are several different stories that refer to some form of this "White Space" but it at felt like they were just interesting stories of unusual success being brought together.

You know, now that I think of it, this book kind of reminds me of a Malcolm Gladwell book, but without a strong central theme, nor quite as interesting to read.

So yeah, I think that sums it up.
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