Finding The Chaordic Path

At MarionLIFE we have begun a conversation with a second community of faith with the intention of leading this community down the winding path of imagining a new future with their local community.

Rather than preparing a simple needs analysis and matching it with programs we are hoping to dream together with the community about what it would mean to be thriving together.

This way of approaching community development (as an art rather than a science) is still a little scary for me as someone who likes the protection of data and systems.  But I have seen the promise of this way of functioning that elicits grounded experience (stories) rather than the abstract and theoretical bullet points (data).

A friend of mine recently linked me to a great TED talk by Mark Strom which expressed this dialectical way of thinking well:

TEDx: Grounded questions. Rich stories. Deep change.

Mark suggests that we have never really moved on from a “school project” mindset: in strategic directions, business proposals, church program.  It’s like we have been given an imaginary large sheet of colourful card and we’re trying to fill it up with all this things we think will please the imaginary teacher.  We want to get the correct answers whether it be by extensive research or poaching other successful programs as opposed to sitting in the space of uncertainty and exploring all the myriad of possibilities.

With the support of Richard Harmer from the Holos Group we have begun to explore a different path.  What Richard and others call The Chaordic Path.

Chaordic path

In his TEDx talk Mark tells the story of when a CEO approached him wanting an opinion on his newly designed strategic vision for the large organisation he oversaw.  Instead of offering an opinion Mark asked him a question:
“Of whom are you proud?”
The only way to answer that question was to tell stories and so the CEO told him stories of courage and innovation and craft and community.  The challenge in this case was there was a dissonance between these stories and the vision as he planned to present it.

Because we are working with living systems (rather than static machines) which are, by nature, changing, contradicting, evolving organisms we often miss the richness when we try to quantify them with spreadsheets and data. Alternatively we often bring them into greater life when we approach them with curiosity, seeking their narrative:

  • What questions would I need to ask to bring out the meta narrative (the overarching story) of this community?
  • What narrative do we need to tell together that will bring us into a place of connectedness and thriving?

These questions (and those like them) invite us into spaces of emergence and creativity.  They also bring us into spaces of experimentation and risk.  And it is very important that when we ask these questions we allow room for the chaos of creativity but manage the expectations of failure (is it okay for some of this to fail?).  Balancing Chaos and Order is what all of this is about- is what the word Cha-Ordic is trying to capture.

What it requires from us, as practitioners of “The Charodic Path” is a capacity to stay in that shifting and changing place between order and chaos- a space that allows for collective intelligence to emerge out of a group of people which none of them could have brought individually.  It requires us to consistently be aware and shift in order to avoid a desire that will arise to veer towards either chaos or control.

I look forward to sharing with you what this Chaordic Path looks like for us.  How about you?  Have you been travelling a Chaordic path without knowing it?  What would it mean for your Church to embrace this Chaordic space and find that “sweet spot of generative emergence?

How do you feel about this?  Does it excite you or frighten you?
If I am honest it does a little of both for me.


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