November 9, 2018

A Little Bit Of Chaos

I read an interesting quote yesterday from Ralph Waldo Emerson. “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds”.

As profound statements often do, this smacked me in the face. A metaphorical face and one where routine, order, systems and precision have been always held supreme.

Industrial manufacturing in the 19th century placed a premium value on achieving consistent outcomes. To do that, we had to create machines and systems that behaved consistently.

There is a management training system called 6-sigma which looks at eliminating variability in production outcomes. Inconsistency is either a systems issue or a people issue and by trying to fix both for rigid efficiency is how you make profit.

Avoiding chaos is efficient, but it’s not exactly fun.

But here is what Emerson was getting at…so much of what has positively changed our world has been an accident.

  • Alexander Fleming found an area around mould where bacterial growth had been prevented and Bam – penicillin.
  • Chef Crum got cross with a customer complaint about his soggy potatoes so he sliced them thinly, deep fried them and now, we have potatoe chips.
  • A science student walked passed a vacuum and magnetron experiment in the lab and felt the candy bar in his pocket melt – now we have microwaves…does raise an eyebrow about OH & S in mid-century science labs.

So while consistency is a good thing, don’t underestimate the power of a bit of chaos to drive creativity, invention and design.