The edge of chaos [see also here] describes a far-from-equilibrium zone between order and disorder. Also described as a critical state, the edge of chaos is where complex self-organising systems or entities tend naturally to gravitate (Lewin 1999, Bak and Chen 1991, Packard 1988, Langton 1986).
Although it may not sound like an inviting place to be, the edge of chaos, from the perspective of a complexity framework, is where organisations, as complex adaptive entities, are most profitably placed. It is here that processes of organisational adjustment, adaptation and development are most supported and fostered.
However, given people’s capacity for judgement and reflection, not everyone sees this as a desirable location. The term chaotic edge describes the place where people think of themselves and their situation as being full of threat, rather than full of potential.
Have you ever tried to walk along a log? If it is on the ground, no doubt you will find it relatively easy to place your feet one after the other onto the log. But if it spans a fast running stream, you may find your sure-footedness lacking. Why? Not because the task is in itself any more difficult but purely because of your anxiety about falling off.
Chaotic edge thinking is ‘fear of falling off’ thinking. It causes people to respond radically to situations. Edge of chaos thinking has organisations handling change effectively and developing new strategic directions as they flexibly encounter new situations and opportunities. Chaotic edge thinking has organisations perceiving themselves as being under threat from almost any change or perturbation and behaving in ways designed to minimise the threat of catastrophe. Often this means a retreat to rules-based behaviour, to true and tested strategies, rather than a willingness to experiment.
Credits and references:
Bak and Chen