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The Chaos Theory

by Vikas Chawla

I am sure you are a little puzzled by the title of this blog post.  Don’t worry, I am not going to propound the “butterfly effect” and other mathematical intricacies of this theory. I just want to bring some context about chaos and the Art of Living Foundation.  I would like to qualify that “this blog post” reflects an opinion that is entirely my own.  For Vishnu’s sake do not mention this to Guruji; otherwise I am in deep trouble.

If you have spent any amount of time in Art of Living Foundation, I am sure that you have wondered that Why is there so much chaos in the functioning of the organizationWhy doesn’t Guruji put some order?  If you have not thought about this then there are only two possibilities (ok three), i.e.
a. You have not spent enough time in the organization
b. You are smoking something
c. You are enlightened (Now you know why I initially stated two possibilities)
Some of us, who are so used to working in the corporate world, always think in terms of accountability and designing a hierarchical reporting structure to bring a semblance of order to the Foundation.

Vikas and his wife, Aparna

Let us consider a natural system and think about water vapor. The molecules are very chaotic in any gaseous system.  You cool the water vapor and you get water.  You have less chaos (i.e. more order).  Water has the fluidity to occupy any vessel that it occupies but does not have the ability to expand as much as the vapors. You cool it down further and you get ice.  A lot of order (very little chaos) but along with it comes rigidity.  I will repeat “Ice has the most amount of structure and also the least ability to expand, adapt to its surroundings !!!”

I want you to pause and think about this analogy.  Any Foundation, corporation, organization also is subject to the same laws.  We have seen it all the time in the IT world where a small and nimble startup will overtake a large behemoth (case in point, Google vs. Microsoft, facebook etc.).  Then that small organization gets very organized (for lack of a better term) and fails to innovate and adapt to the Market conditions.

I am arguing that chaos is a necessary condition for rapid expansion.

There is no escaping it.  More structure means more politics (Oops, I meant policies ), more red tape, more bureaucracy and less ability to innovate. Every Art of Living teacher/volunteer is an entrepreneur.  He/she has the ability to take an innovative approach to promoting the courses, coming up with new projects, add his/her flavor in teaching the course and even coming up with new courses as long as it is in line with the mission statement of the Foundation. IMHO, this is the phenomenon that you are seeing in our Foundation and that is what Guruji wants to promote.  He is not imposing a lot of structure since he does not want to stifle the creativity.  The key is to walk the middle path.  Not be like the vapor where everything is “airy fairy” and not be like ice, where you have a lot of rigidity. Be like water and adapt to any surrounding condition. There is no reason for everyone to come up with their own flyer, own website (BTW, Great work Jani and team, You guys  rock !!! ), having a centralized financial model is great. However, as soon as we impose a strict hierarchy or reporting structure in a volunteer organization, we will see a negative spiral. There needs to be room for individual volunteers/teachers/chapters to exhibit their creativity. Out of this chaos will emerge an order which will be long lasting. Processes and policies are good when followed to a limited extent but stifle the organization when taken stringently. From a philosophical perspective chaos has a lot to teach us in being creative, spontaneous, accepting and rolling with the punches. Sometimes you might think that in Art of Living there are too many “chiefs and not many Indians”.  Well what happens when the Indians become the chiefs !!!! 🙂

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