Finding The Hidden InfoSec Story

Chaos – Where Great Dreams Begin

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Before the beginning of great brilliance, there must be chaos.

Before a brilliant person begins something great, they must look foolish in the crowd.

– I Ching

For years, I included this proverb at the end of my speeches. It had great meaning to me in my pursuit to make the world better and more cyber secure. I reflected on the adage frequently, and it influenced my work principles.

Just like works of art, the true meaning of this saying is with the beholder. Here is my interpretation.

Chaos – Where Great Dreams Begin.

Chaos is perceived by some to be a negative attribute. However, it also has positive characteristics. To me chaos means out of disorder come new and unforeseen opportunities for success – taking paths we may not have traveled if a more traditional approach was followed. In my view, chaos is more about being different and a willingness to carve your own path versus blindly following a well-worn one.

In the field of cyber security, the idea that we can approach security in a traditional manner (order) never felt quite right to me. I firmly believe we need to follow a more unconventional and natural (chaos) course.

A common traditional model is built on a prescriptive and sequential process that sets a course to get from point A to point B, plotted usually over a five-year horizon that includes goals, strategies, and action plans. Following this defined path is too rigid in the cyber arena and can lead to implementation of a plan that no longer reflects the ever-changing environment. Or worse, the strategic plan just ends up on someone’s shelf, never going beyond the planning stages.

A more natural approach, which is also referred to as organic, is like building a plane in the sky. I admit that this approach can be scary and probably will give the traditionalist heartburn. This type of natural approach recognizes the need to be flexible versus rigid; to focus more on results versus structure; and to foster creative ideas in addition to conventional ones.

While a typical, conventional approach works in many environments and business sectors, I am convinced, if we adhere to this rigid approach, we will fail to meet today’s cyber threats and those in the future, as they constantly and rapidly evolve. I have found that a more nascent, creative, passionate, and action-driven process to address the ever-dynamic cyber threats is more effective. Time and time again, the chaos associated with a more natural approach has led to a path where great dreams were born.

Before the beginning of great brilliance, there must be chaos.

Chaos means moving forward in the context of a dynamic environment, driven by values and common purposes; creating movement toward action; being flexible to alter courses; not being territorial about the process; and most of all focusing on the outcome rather than preordained steps.

How often have you planned a summer vacation down to every minute, only to realize later that you missed wonderful, spontaneous opportunities. While I recognize the importance of and the efficiencies in detailed preparation, what can be lost is the value of exploration, discovering the unexpected, and tolerating the unknown. We need to look at issues from multiple optics and recognize the strength in our differences as much as in our similarities.

In the cyber arena, no matter how hard we plan, we do not know where the next attack will come from, when it will come, or how it will be executed. This is why I am an advocate of a more fluid (chaos) approach, since we do not know what tomorrow will bring. Surely, we can and should attempt to forecast the next cyber event, but we must be flexible enough to adjust and adapt as quickly as the cyber challenges that confront us.

Before a brilliant person begins something great, they must look foolish in the crowd.

We cannot take ourselves too seriously. While no one wants to look foolish, the fear to speak up and offer different or even unconventional ideas is an impediment to great achievements. We have to create safe havens that foster free thinking and extraordinary ideas to surface.

Dare to be different — embrace chaos.

Embracing chaos needs a strong leader, confident enough to have their ideas be challenged and debated. The leader needs to create movement, which at all levels of the organization:

  • discourages planning things to death by rewarding action versus inaction and recognizing the need to alter the course as things shift and change;
  • creates a safe haven that incentivizes positive and unique ideas and encourages challenging the status quo;
  • empowers individuals to make decisions and supports those individuals in their failures as well as their successes;
  • brings diverse voices to the decision-making table in order to gather input from different viewpoints;
  • promotes substance over process by concentrating more on capabilities development; and
  • seeks innovative and creative ways of solving problems such as crowdsourcing and gaming.

The value of having a nurturing and organic ecosystem that transcends the entire organization cannot be overstated to achieve the desired outcomes.

Albert Einstein said, “If at first, the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.”

In other words, where would we be today if no one dared to look foolish to a crowd. Dare to be different — embrace chaos.

Author: Will Pelgrin

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