Chaos is everywhere—here’s how to accept it

An epiphany in traffic.
An epiphany in traffic.
Image: Reuters
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Count on chaos to wear you down until you make it your ally—or at least a comfortable companion in your work and life.

That’s the message from Bob Miglani, author of the new book Embrace the Chaos, which is subtitled “How India Taught Me to Stop Overthinking and Start Living.”

Miglani, who has worked at Pfizer for 20 years, has plenty of experience with chaos, much of it from trips back to India for business or to see family. Often, he was left feeling stressed by the country’s chaos, noise, poverty, and crowded streets as well as his own expectations. Yet major changes and frequent uncertainty show up in almost every corner of the world, including most offices.

“Every six months there’s some kind of change in the workplace” or in business conditions, he said. “You can’t get lost in having that perfect control.” Today’s business environment is chaotic because of uncertainty, unpredictability, speed, and complexity.

While it’s challenging to lead a team through chaos and teach employees to embrace rapid change, the leader’s job is clear: “Redirect the conversation from all the change, from all the challenges to ‘what’s our goal?’… What metrics do we want to use to measure that? What are we trying to achieve?”

To “embrace the chaos,” Miglani offers three strategies:

Accept that the world is unpredictable, uncontrollable, filled with complications.

Stop over-thinking—and don’t overplay or try to predict the future.

Then, move forward and participate in life, your career, and good causes.

Embrace the Chaos comes out amidst a crush of books about lessons from India or chaos: The Chaos Imperative by Ori Brafman and Judah Pollack, Chasing Chaos by Jessica Alexander, and Two Birds in a Tree by Ram Nidumola, which offers ”timeless Indian wisdom” and was put out by Miglani’s publisher. A decade ago the competition might have made Miglani anxious. Now he says he’s glad so many writers are focused on helping people “get unstuck in life.”

His own “aha” moment occurred in a taxi on the way to a conference in Ahmedabad, a city of 5.6 million. He writes:

“The road was brimming with bicycles, carefree pedestrians, motorcycles, scooters, small trucks, rickshaws, three-wheelers (scooters that serve as small taxicabs) and the occasional cow or buffalo. These were our road companions as our driver weaved through the mess to our destination. I was worried about making the meetings on time and was anxious because I wasn’t sure who was going to show up. I didn’t want our trade group to look bad and I felt like I had a lot riding on my shoulders. After all, this was ‘my’ country, which I was trying to show off.”

The taxi driver navigated around a cow, then started speeding up just as a tree appeared in the middle of the road. The driver veered around the tree, ignoring the motorcycle near his rear bumper. Miglani, unnerved, asked the driver about his maneuvers. The driver said: “Sir, in this crazy road…I have learned that I cannot count on anyone else or anything else to be predictable. Because each road has a surprise…The only thing I do is be prepared and think of only my car and the passengers in my car…I can only control my own driving.”

Now, Miglani brings calm and order to his life through a daily morning ritual: he exercises or walks for a half hour, recites his chaos manifesto or another mantra, and then listens to YouTube talks or podcasts (instead of news) on the way to work. “Once you plant these positive seeds you reap the rewards all the day,” he said—even if chaos greets you at the office door.