Tornadoes are scary, but it’s the debris signature that’ll kill you

Organized chaos can empower employees, foster critical thinking, fuel engagement, stimulate adaptability and help teams achieve their goals.

But we should be careful not to elevate our corporate buzzwords into company initiatives.

Because a there’s a fine line between quirky, lovable dysfunction, and a hot mess tornado of chaos that’s leaving a trail of destruction in its path.

My startup once had an applicant who explicitly stated during his job interview that he thrived on chaos. Which seemed like positive personality trait on the surface, as most startups tend toward chaos.

But we quickly learned that it was more than just a cliché, it was a character defect. Jake was the kind of person who constantly felt like the bottom was about fall out. Hanging on by a thread, he was always running from one emergency to another, manufacturing crises like factory widgets.

Which, to his credit, fueled him to finish key tasks. But after a few months, the collateral damage began to outweigh the uptick in productivity. Jake’s energy started to spread around the office like a virus. The hot molten center of his frenetic universe expanded outward and infected the rest of the team, and the emotional contagion was undeniable.

Just being around him was stressing people out.

Turns out, there’s a science behind this exchange. Framingham’s famous cardiovascular study, not to mention dozens of other accredited pieces of research, demonstrated that as humans, we’re innately vulnerable to catching other people’s emotions. Our feelings are more than merely a function of personal experience, but also is a property of groups. Emotions, therefore, are a collective phenomenon.

Which brings us back to my tornado of a coworker. We reached the point where the downside of his contagion trumped the upside of his execution, and we unfortunately had to ask him to leave. Jake was upset, but not overly surprised, as this wasn’t the first time in his career that thriving on chaos worked against him.

Our parting was bittersweet, since he did bring many positive qualities to the role.

But it just goes to show you, organized chaos isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Each of us still has to take responsibility for the energy we bring to the workplace.

There’s definitely something to be said about the positive tension of disharmony.

But just ask anyone who grew up in the middle of the country.

It’s not the tornado you gotta worry about, it’s the debris signature that’ll kill you.

Does your company actually thrive on chaos, or is it just chaotic?


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Author. Speaker. Strategist. Songwriter. Filmmaker. Inventor. Gameshow Host. World Record Holder. I also wear a nametag 24-7. Even to bed.
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