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Channeling Chaos

Channeling Chaos

All great changes are preceded by chaos!
• Deepak Chopra


Emergence is an act of creativity seen in nature, the way complex systems arise out of a diversity of relatively simple interactions. It appears in the complex symmetrical patterns of snowflakes, the ripple patterns in sand dunes, and in places like the Giant’s Causeway.

When a group of people come together as an effective change network, organizational emergence is evident. Simply stated, a collaborative collective is far more intelligent and powerful than the sum of its parts.

Witnessing these change networks emerge is pure alchemy. Even more powerful is the ability of these networks to create the space for systemic change in their organizations.

How do they do it? As with the concept of emergence, there is no ‘one plus one equals two’ answer. Both researchers and practitioners have come to the same understanding — that effective change leaders commit to creating a safe and courageous space for emerging:

• chaos rather than control
• conflict rather than harmony; and
• intelligent failures rather than perfection.

All are requirements of the creative process of transformation.

Change management focuses on implementing the structural processes of change. It controls the change initiative, using simple tools and structures to minimize distractions.

In contrast, change leadership requires different behaviours and skills than those involved in change management. It focuses on inspiring true urgency, influencing head, heart and gut, and emerging collective accountability.


In this process, there is potential for change to feel messy, edgy, risky—uncomfortable. This is normal!


Change leaders learn to live in the discomfort. As Bob Anderson shares, leadership is mastering the tension between safety and purpose.

Is your intention to inspire great organizational or social transformation? Smaller, less impactful changes that are more developmental or transitional in nature can often be managed with little chaos. If we are talking about great transformational changes in mindset and culture, expect chaos as part of the process. 

If there’s no chaos, perhaps it’s time to check the purpose of the change vision as truly transformational and banish mediocrity!

As Chopra reminds us, all great changes are preceded by chaos. The word ‘chaos’ is derived from the Greek ‘chasm’ — a break in continuity, a gap, an edge. As change leaders, when we commit to creating a safe and courageous space for chaos, we honour the change process. 


We lead people up to the edge of change, gape into the chasm of uncertainty, and allow for a diversity of conflicting emotions and thoughts to emerge.


Rather than attempting to quash those emotions and thoughts, or trying to force people to feel or think differently than they do, we allow the diversity of emotions and thoughts to unfold and mingle. Uncertainty and chaos transition into the creation of something new. Collaborative chaos allows for the influencing of hearts, heads and guts and collective accountability to emerge.


‘Conflict is the midwife to constructive change.’
• Marita Fridjhon


Many of us are conflict averse. We haven’t yet learned to develop a healthy relationship with conflict, personally or professionally.

Avoiding conflict does not lead to harmony. If only it was that easy! Unfortunately, attempts to quash conflict in self and others does not eliminate it. Conflict is still there, lurking under the radar and often toxic.

By creating a safe and courageous space, change leaders allow for the development of a healthy relationship with conflict. They empower all the voices of change to be spoken and heard — even the unpopular voices.

Often, these marginalized voices are critical to highlighting potential blind spots in change initiatives. This process can be the spark allowing creative and innovative thinking to emerge.


‘Mistakes are the portal to discovery.’

• James Joyce


Let’s admit it, failure hurts. Yet if we never risk failure, we risk failing our own imagination. If we can learn from failure, it becomes a springboard to creative change. In a safe and courageous space, teams make mistakes and risk failing, but never fail to learn.

Taking advantage of what’s emerging requires awareness, intention, and skill. As you consider the change you hope to lead within your team, let answers to these questions emerge.

• Are you willing to risk chaos by allowing diverse emotions and thoughts to be heard?
• Where are you willing to hear a diversity of voices and risk conflict, or make mistakes and risk failure?
• Where do you dare to be a change leader?

Kerry Woodcock, Ph.D., leads change for a world of change, She coaches pioneers and influencers to amplify the power of relationship and lead over the edge of change. As Principal of Novalda, she develops change leadership capability in organizations and social systems.

Question | What support do you need to channel the chaos of change?

The Window of Opportunity

The Window of Opportunity

A window of opportunity has opened.

You can see it, hear it, feel it, smell it, taste it! The possibilities for your team, your organization, your world are startling. Startlingly obvious to you, anyway.

You are ready to go through this window of opportunity. Now. Before it closes.

You look around. Wait a minute. Are your people ready to go through to the other side? Where are they? Right behind you? Beside you? Already gone through? Or are they tripping over each other, frantically trying to get their things together?

Perhaps they are smiling back at you, bemused, as they continue business as usual. The look says it all—no need to go out there. Take a seat. Relax. Chill for a while.

As a certified Organizational and Relationship Systems Coach, I am trained to read the emotional field and sense the energy of a room. In a similar way, I facilitate leaders to sense the collective energy of a team and notice what’s needed.

The system is always signalling. By paying attention to the signals – the clearing of a throat, a downcast look or nodding head, a knot in the stomach, vibrant conversations in the corridor— leaders get a sense of where the system is now in relation to the big opportunity.

Clues come in noticing what people say and do, and sensing their thoughts and feelings. Do you notice complacency or urgency? Is that urgency false or true? Use the clues to get a clearer understanding of what is wanting to happen.


What do those around you need to hear, see, think and feel to go through that window of opportunity? Only by reading the signals is there potential to raise the sense of urgency for a big opportunity.


Yet it’s all just potential if you as a change leader only look outside of yourself. Looking within is just as important.

What is your sense of urgency? What signals are you sending out to the larger system?

Do you react to complacency and a false sense of urgency with anger and frustration?

Are your actions congruent? Maybe you send out double signals—one saying, ‘Let’s go through that window!’ and another that says, “Hang on a minute. Have we thought this through?’


Change leaders are mindful of emotions and the impact on others, for moods are contagious.


Within two hours of working together, a team will catch the moods of the titled leader and most expressive—whether verbal or non-verbal—member of the team. What is the mood you intend those around you to catch? 

Sense the urgency, and like a tuning fork, respond with what is required to nudge your team over the brink to join you in the land of opportunity and possibility.


Kerry Woodcock, Ph.D., leads change for a world of change, coaching pioneers and influencers to amplify the power of relationship. As Principal of Novalda Coaching and Consulting, she develops change leadership capability in organizations and social systems, and works with leapers and bridge builders to lead self and others over the edge of change. 


Question | What support do you need to take advantage of the window of opportunity?

Poised at the Brink of Change

Poised at the Brink of Change

Are you being called to the edge? It’s the place between the known and the unknown, certainty and uncertainty, the current and the new. 

The world is brought to an edge when worldviews clash. Industry comes to an edge with the booms and busts of volatile markets. Organizations are called to an edge as they shift from an old to a new identity in moving towards a big opportunity. Teams find themselves at an edge each time they are required to go in an unfamiliar direction. Individuals meet an edge when a belief system is called into question.

Whenever change calls to us, we have a choice.

We can acknowledge our personal and collective edges. Or deny them.

As brink leaders in brink times, we choose to be poised at the edge of change. Recognizing edges allows us the opportunity to slow down and step into the discomfort of a transitional and ambiguous space.

To explore the polarity of what is known and unknown, of where we feel sure and unsure. In this fertile ground at the edge, we ourselves, our teams, organizations, and the world have the greatest potential for learning, growth, creativity and innovation.

Julie Diamond, author of A Path Made By Walking, speaks to the majesty and magic of edges when she says, ‘Encountering an edge is like producing art: the interplay between constraint and creativity.’

Sudden, energetic changes signal personal and collective edges. Eruptions and disruptions, laughter and silence, nervousness and excitement, or gaps in information, such as incongruent messages and actions, cycling, and dissociation.

We may fail to notice or purposefully choose to ignore signals that we are at the edge. Yet we do not escape the experience of discomfort in the tension between what is here now and what is wanting to emerge. More disturbingly, we risk missing the opportunity to grow through transition and to emerge transformed.

When all around us change is happening – fast and slow – up and down – booms and busts – what do we do? Do we react or respond? Do we take a moment to stop and become aware to the emotional process within us? Do we listen for the congruence or incongruence between our head, heart, and gut? Do we check in with what is going on around us? What are those around us thinking, feeling, sensing? Do we have the curiosity, compassion, and courage to acknowledge our personal and collective edges?

If we deny our edges, we deny ourselves, our teams, organizations, industries, and world the opportunity to inspire change, lead transition and emerge transformed.

It’s edgy, yet it’s our choice.

‘To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. Not to dare is to lose oneself,’ wrote Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard.

As change leaders, we explore the edges. We dare to stumble and to be real, to acknowledge and be with the discomfort in ourselves and others. We make the invisible visible. We are brink leaders and It’s from the edge that we have an opportunity to fly.


Kerry Woodcock, Ph.D., leads change for a world of change, She coaches pioneers and influencers to amplify the power of relationship and lead over the edge of change. As Principal of Novalda, she develops change leadership capability in organizations and social systems.

Question | What support do you need to feel poised on the brink of change?