Clif Notes: The Situation Is Excellent

There is an oft quoted saying supposedly from Mao Tse-tung. "There is great chaos under heaven — the situation is excellent."

I say "supposedly" because I have never actually sourced the reference. So I will have to take other people's word that he actually said that. (Assuming he did, being a politician, he probably plagiarized it from someone else.) In any case, since I have never been interested enough to actually look it up, I don't even know the context in which it was uttered. However, I have never seen it used in context anyway. So let's just take it as it is.

Although not a fan of the Chairman, I have still always appreciated this out-of-context quote. To me, it's a good soundbite about a positive way to view our sometimes tumultuous Information Services industry. Given what has been in the headlines the last couple of years, the first thing that may come to your mind when you hear the term "chaos" would be the economic roller coaster we have been on. That would certainly fit. But chaos gets a bad rap. Somewhere along the evolution of the language, in most people's minds, it has come to be synonymous with changes that are almost always bad, hurtful, or destructive. But let's look at it from a slightly different perspective.

Let's look for just a moment at a couple of the various definitions of the word "chaos." Using Merriam-Webster's Unabridged Dictionary, you'll see that one of the obsolete definitions equates it to "abyss." If you follow up by checking the definition of that word, you see phrases like "bottomless pit," or "place of punishment of the wicked." And "Hell." Is it any wonder that when someone says "It's absolute chaos around here," it is meant as a negative comment?

But if you keep reading, you find in more modern definitions the tone has tended to mellow. My favorite is, "a state of things in which chance is supreme." To my mind, that is a pretty succinct definition of Life. Complexity and chaos go hand-in-hand. Do you enjoy sitting on a sunny beach, sipping an adult beverage, and feeling cool ocean breezes ripple across your skin? You are benefiting from a chaotic system called "Weather." Hoping to find a new fishing hole in that favorite stream of yours? Flowing water and erosion is a complex system governed by chaos.

Of course, the results of chaos are not always positive. Weather systems can produce destructive storms as well as soft island breezes. Too much chaotic water in the form of floods can lead to loss of life, property, and the decimation of that burbling trout stream you used to enjoy.

So chaos presents us with both positive and negative aspects. But you can't have one without the other. We can, however, choose how we are going to react to what chaos hands to us. I think that is that "Free Will" thing people talk about.

So when I hear the quote, "There is chaos under heaven — the situation is excellent," it reminds me that things are always changing. And it is when things are changing that opportunities arise. Whether the changes in question are downturns, upturns, or sputtering of the economy, or paradigm shifts within the Information Services industry such as cloud computing, mobile computing, breakthrough applications, etc., new opportunities are presenting themselves continuously. Take a look at the end-of-year recap article in this issue for some examples of people grabbing opportunities that were presented to them in 2011.

So as we all go into this holiday season, let's keep in mind that a lot of the changes we are seeing in our MultiValue marketplace might not really be problems that have to be overcome. Some of them might actually be opportunity gifts in disguise.

Although I will admit, I have at times been given some gifts in pretty funky wrapping paper.

Clif Oliver

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Nov/Dec 2011