I’m now describing myself as a Chaos Monkey (for the mind).
My proposition is that Chaos Monkeys can add real value to organisations by helping disrupt the status quo, not least by modelling certain desirable behaviours such as questioning the way things are done, challenging the unspoken and unexamined assumptions underlying e.g standard practices, questioning the relevance of standing policies and procedures, and so on.
I’m sure that many agilists find themselves in the role of a stealth Chaos Monkey, so why not bring it out into the open, make it explicit, and be seen as making a positive, practical and valuable contribution rather than risk being misunderstood as a pollyanna, idealist or troublemaker?
Technology isn’t just shiny gizmos and computers. A broader definition might be:
“The application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes.”
And many may know this quote:
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
~ Arthur C Clarke
Some of my clients describe what I do as magic. Which is nice. But hardly useful in describing what I do to others. For the past several years I’ve described myself as an Organisational Psychotherapist. A bit of a mouthful, to be sure, and not much more useful than “Magician”, when it comes down to it, despite the business value it offers. So I’m now describing myself as “Chaos Monkey and Omega Wolf“.
Natural Fools, Licensed Fools
In the Middle Ages, many royal courts had one or more jesters – or fools – both to entertain and to criticise the monarch. The natural fool was seen as innately nit-witted, moronic, or mad, whereas the licensed fool was given leeway by permission of the court. In other words, both were excused, to some extent, for their behavior, the first because he “couldn’t help it”, and the second by decree.
“The fool’s status was one of privilege within a royal or noble household…Jesters could also give bad news to the King that no one else would dare deliver.”
I see the Chaos Monkey as much like the medieval licensed fool, in that it’s a role commissioned by i.e. the CEO for the express purpose of injecting alternate perspectives into the organisation.
I’m going to leave explaining the idea – and relevance – of Omega Wolf for another post. My thanks to @davenicolette for introducing me to the term in his recent blog post: “40% to 99% of your team’s effort is wasted (give or take a bit)“.
The idea of Chaos Monkeys is not new. Apple was using the idea of an Angry Monkey in its Macintosh development as far back as 1980.
More recently, the idea has seen wide publicity through Netflix’s Chaos Monkey. Netflix reports a positive influence on the quality of their systems, including better design, and improved robustness in the face of outages. And also engineers who more readily consider what could go wrong , and so better cater to those risks.
My working hypothesis is that us Chaos Monkeys can significantly improve the thinking in organisations by frequently challenging entrenched thought patterns, introducing disruptive ideas – for example ideas from Ackoff, Deming, Drucker, Seddon, Feyerabend, et al, and generally being contentious and awkward – in a constructive (and, btw, nonviolent) way.
My Chaos Monkey Credo
- I aspire to help people by offering them the opportunity to reexamine their basic assumptions about e.g. the world of work.
- I aspire to reduce groupthink and failure to innovate, through repeated injections of seeming non-sequiturs, challenges and awkward questions intended to disrupt established patterns of dialogue and thought.
- I aspire to help people by throwing a spanner in their cause-effect reasoning (*when invited).
- I aspire to help organisations and the folks therein by questioning the status quo at every turn.
- I aspire to improve the quality of individual and collective thought by raising difficult issues and shining a light of enquiry into dark corners.
- I aspire to improve the quality of dialogue by asking challenging questions, inviting reconsideration and debate, and by broaching the undiscussable.
- I aspire to make things better by highlighting cycles of unproductive reasoning, and assumptions invalidated by science, change, and experimentation.
- I aspire to convert others into our broad Church of the Chaos Monkey, and make Chaos Monkey behaviour not only acceptable but highly sought-after.
*Note to Twitter folks: I propose that public tweeting implies a de facto invitation for spanner-throwing. Please do let me know, if you would like to be explicitly excluded from my throwing spanners in your direction.
Who wants to join us in the new Chaos Monkey Legion!?