In the land of the blind the one eyed man is king
Zen-ness from Chaos Theory
Chaos theory is another paradox. The word chaos elicits thoughts of disorder and randomness, yet, the Theory of Chaos is not simply about disorder. More importantly, Chaos Theory is also about the changes in states of order and stability that can arise spontaneously in complex dynamic systems. It is about the enigmatic way in which a seemingly stable system will suddenly give rise to apparent randomness and then, just as suddenly, settle down again into new and quite different steady and seemingly stable patterns of activity.
Chaotic activity can be seen in the way days of bright sunshine can suddenly give way to unsettled and changeable weather; then turn to days of constant cloud and steady rain; then, just as unpredictably, reverse the process to go back to days of sunshine once again. Chaos theory is about understanding and describing such irrational changes that can occur within a complex dynamic system. The Internet is typical of such a system and exhibits this kind of non predictabl, irrational behavior.
For the purpose of achieving Zen-ness in the Information Age, it is sufficient to have only a simplified model of Chaos in your mind: just enough to understand how Chaotic disturbances can have an effect on e-business and e-commerce. It isn't necessary to learn the complicated mathematics of Chaos Theory. After all, it isn't necessary to know all the complicated calculations needed to make a weather forecast , to understand the weather. If you have a rough idea that high and low pressures result in changeable weather , with intermittent periods of rainy days and sunny days, you can at least have sufficient understanding to choose suitable clothes when you go out for the day. This is the "Zen thing". It's not exact science, it's a blurry awareness of the underlying main issues: just enough to give a competitive edge in decision making.
The Internet, and by association e-business and e-commerce, are complex dynamic systems that are affected by Chaos. The theories of Chaos identify the Internet and the advance of computers and digital communications as being likely triggers that could destabilise the whole of the business world. Not slowly and gradually , but in sudden unpredictable jumps.
Although chaos is a creation of mathematicians, it's unpredictability can be appreciated simply by observing the effects of chaos in complex systems. One of the simplest models to demonstrate these effect is often found in novelty gift stores: the decision maker. This consists of a small metal ball suspended like a pendulum above three magnets. Swinging the pendulum over the three magnets will see the ball jerking around in a bizarre and erratic fashion before suddenly coming to rest above one of the magnets. Disturb the position of the ball with a sufficiently large push and the ball will go into another exotic dance over the magnets before coming to rest again at the same or perhaps another of the magnets.
The movements appear totally erratic and random; the ball can end up at any one of the three magnets. Yet, it ought not to happen. It is an extremely simple system where the laws and the relationships between the swinging ball and the magnets are straightforward, well known and fully determined.
It is this kind of picture that you need to have in mind in order to have this Zen-ness in e-business and e-commerce. Opinions and trends will swing widely between different current attractors and no amount of reasoning will tell you how they are going to move. A jolt in the form of a new advance in technology or an imaginative new competitive strategy can send the ball wildly jerking around with no way of knowing where it will stop. Being aware of this unpredictable nature of change can give you a distinct advantage because you can allow for it in your strategy.
Chaos, and the different states of instabilities and stabilities that can arise, is most easily observed in the world of investment. Stock market prices vary continuously but professional investors can cope with this variability because they have acquired a certain type of Zen-ness for dealing with it. As we shall be seeing in a later chapter, professional investors use strategies very similar to the strategies employed by entrepreneurs. They get into situations with the anticipation of change and use special conceptual tools to neutralise the effects of change.
While a novice investor might be predominantly preoccupied with the details of balance sheets, the professional investor will be more concerned with the broader issues. A new government, a change of interest rates, a currency devaluation, a new technology. These are the key issues that can trigger dramatic changes of state that might move all stock market prices to new levels. No investor can predict such events or their consequences ahead of time, but, by being aware that such changes do occur, will give them a strong competitive edge.
A strategy based upon anticipating change was illustrated in the game of poker that was described in chapter one. One player is playing the game with the anticipation that the steady state of his winning position with back to back aces will be continue. The other is anticipating the probability of a new round of cards providing a dramatic change that will transfer the winning advantage. Although the game of poker itself is not a chaotic system, this captures the essence of the situation in which individuals and businesses now find themselves in when doing business in the Information Age. Either they are in the unenviable position of the careful player who is blissfully unaware that there is a predator waiting for an opportunity to pounce. Or, they can be like the professional poker player, whose Zen like understanding allows them to anticipate change and waits for the emergent opportunity that will throw the advantage over to them
The most amazing and surprising consequence of Chaos Theory is that it undermines the value of logic. As we see from the decision making pendulum, for no apparent logical reason, a system can become unstable and then settle down into any one of a number of several different steady states. No examination of the individual relationships between the components of the system would lead one to even suspect that such erratic and unpredictable behaviour could result. It is a strong reason for being suspicious of any logical reasoning when considering what strategies to adopt for e-business of e-commerce projects.