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The Terrible Tao of Chaotic Career Moves


Myron Cope and his Terrible Towel: Pittsburgh broadcaster or Chaos Theorist?With a field of study as rich in language and imagery as chaos and fractals, it is inevitable that whole bodies of research will develop that find the theory and results of chaos & fractals applicable in totally improbable situations. It used to be that quantum physics was the leader in this phenomena, with the Tao of Physics by Fritjof Capra the ur-text that promised a much more balanced outlook on life informed by wave/particle duality. (And I will note that I still have my copy.) Given the history of this text, I need to introduce a new category of post, which I openly steal from all Pittsburgh friends and readers - The Terrible Tao. The T-Tao designation is given to applications of chaos and fractals - and I might as well throw in complexity - to the most unlikely social situation.

My goal here is not to criticize these efforts, because they represent attempts to find models for social behavior that are grounded in a well-established field - chaos and fractals - that just happens to yield a range of behaviors that are remarkably similar to human and institutional behavior. Actually, with many of the articles appearing in journals well outside of the natural sciences, the writing often contains a self-contained expository section on nonlinear dynamics because a general knowledge of chaos and fractal theory on the part of the journal’s audience cannot be assumed. So I am glad that the ideas of chaos and fractals reach a larger audience.

With that said, I often find that the modeling is more a use of chaos and fractals as metaphor - a way to describe human situations with exotic terms such as bifurcation, or homoclinic tangle. As a result, I rarely see any predictive value in the modeling, which, as a result, leaves me no farther along in understanding the situation being modeled.

I try not to pass judgement, though - if I can help it.

Without further ado, then, my first T-Tao goes to Complexity, chaos, and nonlinear dynamics: a new perspective on career development theory, in which Deborah P. Bloch posits…

a theory of career development drawing on nonlinear dynamics and chaos and complexity theories. Career is presented as a complex adaptive entity, a fractal of the human entity. Characteristics of complex adaptive entities, including (a) autopiesis, or self-regeneration; (b) open exchange; (c) participation in networks; (d) fractals; (e) phase transitions between order and chaos; (f) search for fitness peaks; (g) nonlinear dynamics; (h) sensitive dependence; (i) attractors that limit growth; (j) the role of strange attractors in emergence; and (k) spirituality, are described and then applied to careers.

Read the actual paper - there are excellent discussions of the items listed in this abstract.

And feel free to comment on the applicability of the suggested model…or to nominate future T-Tao awardees.