Embrace the Chaos of Work

We are told to embrace change, right? Well, we’re in a period where change really doesn’t cover what needs to be embraced. Instead, I propose that we need to embrace chaos. Yes, chaos.

Think of the extraordinary circumstances in the business world today: hundreds of billions for bailouts of financial companies – who still are not lending. Billions more for the auto industry to help save over a million jobs. Trillions lost in the stock market – our savings and our pensions. Taking a 40% haircut in everything you own is just not “change.” It’s a disaster.

But get a little closer to home and check out how careers are trending.

Corporate churn

I have this saying: 6.5% unemployment and 75% corporate churn. People focus on the unemployment rate, but the corporate churn is almost more dangerous. Now, I can’t prove the 75% corporate churn, where your work is reorganized through management changes. But look at your situation and count how many times your department has been reorganized in the last two years. How many different managers you have had in two years. And the deal is this: the rate of the reorg change is increasing. That’s chaos.

Job changes

The time between job changes is decreasing, whether it is inside a company or between companies. I know talented individuals who were laid off two years ago, found a different job, were laid off by the new company, found another job and are now facing a layoff again. In this layoff environment, having five jobs in five years will not be an oddity. That’s chaos.

Creative destruction

Creative destruction means that new circumstances will destroy existing structures. The harsh lessons of the housing bubble are how far and return obsessed financial service companies were over the last few years. All of that is being destroyed and we do not know what will be replacing it. Or it will just be destroyed. The auto companies built their business on credit and are being destroyed without it. Our own financial security has been seriously damaged through losses in our 401(k)’s and savings in our homes. The devastation of all of this will leave a place far different then what it was only a year ago. That’s chaos.


There was common wisdom of a “deleveraged” world economy. What happened in the United States didn’t matter too much to a place like China. That theory ended up being wrong. Instead, the impact of poor management in one country effects what happens in all countries. And in survival mode, management at companies will continue to focus on cost reduction – especially labor cost reduction. Outsourcing, or, building your own employees in less costly countries to do your work will continue. That’s chaos.

Industry adaptation

Fundamental changes will happen to industries. Consider the California power company that placed solar panels on top of huge warehouses. The plan is to do two square miles of coverage on roofs to generate power for over 162,000 homes. Consider the need of auto companies to adapt to much higher fuel mileage requirements – or go electric or use fuel cells. We are at a time where sweeping changes will take place inside industries – and no one knows where the changes will take the companies in the industries. Adapt or die has more urgency now. That’s chaos.

Plan on your career swirling to different directions you can’t even see now. Plan on what you know now as not what you need to know five years from now. Plan on your career being one of a consultant, learning from each gig. Plan on opportunities coming at you from places you would never consider. Plan on embracing chaos.

How will your work change?

  • There is a “Buyer Beware” in shifting to outsourcing. While this can be effective, this can also be a disaster. I saw the latter in government as offices were being downsized to save costs. Yet the remaining government workers suddenly became managers of outsourced contracts. Problems occurred because they were not provided the tools to be managers of contracts or multiple contractors. Later, after these issues were highlighted, contract training was provided. I have also seen this in the corporate world!

    Need to ensure proper training is part of the outsource decision.

  • I think consulting work is where it’s all heading. 1099’s and 30-hour “part-time” jobs will surge. And to that I would say, “Plan to diversify your income.”

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