Creative Chaos in Many Worlds (Guest Speaker)

Our event is on the edge of chaos sometimes.  — Danger Ranger aka Michael Mikel, as quoted in Enabling Creative Chaos by Katherine Chen

In class on Thursday, we will have  a guest, Dr. Katherine Chen, of City College of New York.  She is a relative newcomer to academia, (like yours truly) and has written a very interesting book, Enabling Creative Chaos, that is a deep analysis of one remarkable organization: the Burning Man festival.

Dr. Chen will speak tomorrow at 4:30 in the Willard Smith library (in Vaughan Lit).  I hope you can come.

In class, she will tell us more about Burning Man and what it has to tell us in general about the sustaining creativity and community in an organization that has pursued ambitious goals and experienced many kinds of adaptation over many years.   I recommend you look over the Burning Ma site, especially material like this essay and all of the fascinating multimedia and images.

One of the key insights in her book is that Burning Man must constantly balance the discipline of bureaucracy or formal organization with the chaos of spontaneous or what she calls “collectivist” organizing.  You have experienced this type of organizing.  It is the excitement of new ventures, the drama of local politics, or the deep sense of engagement you feel when a loose group starts to cohere into that collective sens of joint enterprise we call organization.  Her introduction argues that Burning Man had to learn to balance over-organizing- letting formalization drive out creativity- and under-organizing- letting collectivist organizing swamp sustainability and reliability.

I especially liked the chapter on using relations to gain legitimacy.  She catalogs a variety of tactics used in both formal and collectivist mode to deal with pressure form media, government, and people seeking to “make a quick buck” from BM.  Given several features of organizing today, including the saturation of media in society, the fluidity of organizations, the rise of creative industries, and the greater role of partnerships for all sorts of organizations and firms, this chapter has much insight that enable us to think of managing in new ways.

Before you dismiss BM as “unique,” let me point out two things.

First, Burning Man and Virtual Worlds are inter-penetrating each other.  Check out “Burning Life!”

Second, I was just asked to review an article at a top journal that argues that communities like those in BM and in virtual worlds will be more and more of a strategic asset.

Are we all leaving behind functional roles in organizations and headed towards being “members” of these new organizations?  why?


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