YOURBUSINESS BY DENISE NORBERG-JOHNSON
For electrical contractors, 2017
is likely to feel equally chaotic and
unpredictable, with new leadership in
Washington, D.C., and global economic
and political upheaval. Fear and anxiety
can undermine the resilience that drives
survival and the decisions that affect a
company’s future. How do you navigate
the uncertainty and survive the chaos?
In 1943, psychologist Abraham Maslow
wrote “A Theory of Motivation” in which
he introduced the hierarchy of needs, a
pyramid with several progressive steps.
Physical survival needs, the base level,
must be satisfied before a person can deal
with safety and security needs, followed
by the need to belong and form relationships. The highest levels, self-esteem and
self-actualization, can only be reached
once the more basic needs have been met.
Everyone—employees and customers
included—operates at some level of this
hierarchy. An employee with financial
problems is motivated to survive and
will be less engaged than the one who
feels confident in his or her value to the
company. The customer whose project
is teetering on the brink of financial
ruin will be driven by fear and will be
unlikely to prioritize the value of the
The level at which a business owner
operates affects the quality of his or her
business decisions, as well. Fear and
insecurity drive the worst deals. When
your business needs a project to keep the
lights on, it will seem nearly impossible
to walk away from a bad contract or fight
for fair treatment and prompt payment.
Making financial decisions, formulating strategies and long-term plans, and
protecting a company from risks are all
methods of seeking the unobtainable
goal of security.
That’s where the philosopher Alan
Watts can help. In 1951, he wrote a book,
“The Wisdom of Insecurity—A Message for an Age of Anxiety,” in which he
described the folly of seeking security.
“The desire for security and the fear
of insecurity are the same thing,” Watts
writes. “To hold your breath is to lose
Using the metaphor of being caught
in the current of a river, Watts outlined
three options. If a person tries to fight the
current, they will become exhausted and
most likely drown. If they simply drift,
they will have no direction and be carried
against their will to an unknown desti-
nation. The optimal choice is to swim
with the current, while gradually mov-
ing towards a chosen point on the shore.
“The only way to make sense of
change is to plunge into it, move with it
and join the dance,” Watts writes.
If finding security is impossible, then
chaos theoreticians, like the fictional Ian
Malcolm, are also potential sources for
guidance. Chaos theory first emerged
in the 1800s but gained wider attention
in the 1980s, with the idea that systems
generate energy but without predictabil-
ity or direction.
A fundamental principle of chaos theory is the Butterfly Effect, the idea that
a butterfly flapping its wings in Tokyo
can affect weather patterns in Chicago.
Credited to Edward Lorenz of MIT, it
also can be applied to organizations. A
small change that seems insignificant
can have an unexpected and exponentially large effect throughout a business
before anyone can react.
Managers who struggle with uncertainty in a world where innovation and
change are highly prized may be confusing order with control. Accepting chaos
means facing the fear of losing control
and replacing that fear with trust. Trust
your team to grow and evolve, and your
employees to help create improvements
in your systems. Trust your customer
relationships to adapt to changing conditions. Replace the “If it ain’t broke,
don’t fix it” philosophy with an “If it ain’t
broke, then break it” strategy and stride
fearlessly into future.
Innovation and creativity are, by
nature, chaotic. With a strong vision, open
communication and shared values, busi-nessowners and employees will be able to
embrace the chaos that keeps a company
adapting to the competitive environment.
Management guru Tom Peters says,
“We must learn to love change, as much
as we have hated it in the past.” Survival
depends on embracing revolution. You
may find that your company can create
its own butterfly effect if you allow it to
emerge from its cocoon of control, flap
its wings and fly.
Embrace change. Don’t fight it.
IN THE ORIGINAL “JURASSIC PARK” MOVIE, mathematician Ian Malcolm
warns the creator of the park that control is an illusion. Regardless of how many
electric fences, backup systems and contingency plans are in place, there is ultimately no guarantee of safety in the park. “Life finds a way,” the chaos theoretician
observes. As the dinosaurs run amok, Jurassic Park visitors are driven to survive
by any means necessary.
NORBERG-J OHNSO N is a former subcontractor and past president of two national
construction associations. She may be reached at email@example.com. IST