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Exciting Disarray - Problem or Pathway to Potential?
by Jamie S. Walters


Exciting disarray – only a phrase that could be used by a visionary, and certainly a concept that would push one to explore the depths of potential, both his own and with regards to his organization. No, this is not your average "synergize the paradigm with best-of-breed solutions and win the war for talent" hogwash mistaken for vision and leadership these days.

"Exciting disarray" is a phrase that leapt out at me recently, when I was thumbing through an old issue of National Geographic. The article reported on recent archaeological discoveries that have provided a thorough shake-up within the archaeology community – where old ideas are ardently protected, and new theories not particularly welcomed, to put it mildly. As in many professions, the status quo is considered sacred. One archaeologist, though, said that the new "finds" had sparked "exciting disarray."

For many people, the term "disarray" could easily be applied to the past year or so, too, though perhaps few would call it exciting. Most people would probably say that both "disarray" and the events of recent times have been uncertain, unnerving, chaotic, ruinous and fear-provoking. And that might all be true. To most people, disarray is anything but exciting. Therein we find a cause for complacency and unfulfilled potential, just as we come to know a core trait of true visionaries.

You see, disarray opens the doorway to new vistas of creation and opportunity. Dr. Immanuel Wallerstein, esteemed sociologist and Yale University professor, said, "If everything is uncertain, then the future is open to human creativity, to possibility and therefore to a better world." Phrased another way, if everything is certain, thoughts of creativity, possibility and a better world are moot.

Clues from Nature

As always, Nature shows us how possibilities can emerge out of what seems to be pure chaos, or even seeming disaster. For example, I recently saw an incredibly beautiful photo that accompanied an article on the Boreal Forest that circles our globe. The photo depicted the most marvelous meadow of new growth – spring-green grasses and vibrant wild flowers, bordered by a delicate grove of birch saplings. What made this scene even more remarkable was a caption that said that this very area had been the focal point of severe deforestation – over-harvesting by paper and lumber companies – as well as a forest fire, within the past 60 years. Despite the abundance of human greed and a marked lack of wisdom, and the periodic-and-normal cleansing by fire, Nature had rebuilt a whole new ecosystem. A true phoenix rising from the ashes of its former self.

So we can look at an acorn and wonder, "How can this become a mighty oak tree?" Yet that’s exactly what it does. Or we can look at a devastated patch of forest, an area of urban blight, or an organization seemingly submerged by the undertow of extreme economic volatility, and know that we can either see it for what it is now, or we can see if for what it can – in all of its wondrous possibility – become. Nature shows us that extraordinary things bloom out of chaos, and since we’re all part of Nature, such things are possible for us, too.

Finding the potential in disarray

Disarray shakes things up (and often shakes us up in the bargain!). If we were sure of our path through the forest, disarray is the rock slide that makes our intended route impassable. In the world of business and organizations, disarray is what’s left in the wake of energy and ethics scandals, executive crime, terrorists (including the aforementioned), stock market crashes, and waves of layoffs. After several boom years, it’s just not what we expected. We’re left with disarray, and the obvious routes forward are blocked, if not obliterated.

And this is the point that separates the true visionaries from the rest of the pack. Yes, that’s right. This is the sunny-side-up, glass-half-full, silver-lining, lemonade-from-lemons crowd. But more than that, true visionaries do more than simply look for the positive and the potential, no matter what challenges crop up along the journey. They scout for and find the positive and the potential, and then they embody and take action on it. They endeavor to be the change they wish to see in the world, instead of letting things get the best of them. And they don’t let hurdles, threats or temporary setbacks – even short-term "failures" – stop them.

The great news? Since "true visionary" is more of a personality trait and personal choice – a way of looking at things – rather than a particular job title, everyone can find the acorn of possibility within themselves. Being a true visionary – that person who always seems to look on the bright side, see the potential, persevere, learn something, and land on his feet – just seems easier for some people because they’ve been making a practice and habit out of it for a longer period of time. But even they have to continue the practice and give themselves refresher courses once in awhile.

If you see it as a habit to cultivate, versus something that only a few people get a chance to be, you’ll be able to plant true-visionary seeds that will help you harvest your highest potential even from the garden of disarray. You just might have to dig a little deeper!

Ivy Sea articles and tip sheets can get you started, with some reflection points and exercises that will help you explore the depths of possibility for yourself or your group.

Contact us at Ivy Sea for assistance in tapping the full power of visionary leadership in a way that connects the people of your organization and helps tap the full potential of your group, We'd be happy to talk with you about the possibilities and options that best suit your needs, style, culture and budget.


The Author


Jamie S. Walters is founder and chief vision & strategy officer at Ivy Sea, Inc., and publisher and editor-in-chief for Ivy Sea Online, recognized by, Harvard Business School, The CEO Refresher and other business portals as one of the best sites on the internet for entrepreneurs, small-business owners and organizational leaders. Jamie is also the author of the new handbook for conscious, human-scale enterprise: Big Vision, Small Business: 4 Keys to Success Without Growing Big (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, San Francisco). E-mail Jamie directly at .

This article was originally featured at Ivy Sea Online and is reprinted with permission. Ivy Sea Online is an outstanding source of insightful and inspiring articles on leadership and communications - "visionary resources for conscious enterprise and inspired livelihood." (ed.)

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