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Mastering Chaos


Navigating life’s challenges: "The Musicians Way"

Human connection and communication at its very best

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Copyright © 2023/4 Andrew Hodges & Philippa Lowe

Our Collective Wisdom? It's Right At The Heart Of It

Connect ~ Communicate ~ Create ~ Celebrate


In a world that can feel like an approaching tsunami wave, sound becomes a beacon of resilience. It helps us not just weather the present storm, but also chart a course towards a future filled with greater harmony.

Our great success on this planet has been through our ability to solve problems collectively. There is something about the way music is created and performed which can help us all work and play better together.  In the Mastering Chaos approach it is referred to as the "Wisdom of the Collective".  When this happens we become greater than the sum of our parts. It is our superpower. This is an analysis of one of the core elements of being Human: our phenomenal ability to use Sound & Music constructively. What lies at the heart of what we do so well when we humans get together to play music? How have we as humans got to this point and what can we learn from this phenomenal ability which will help us work more closely together to solve the immense problems which lie before us?

The Heart Of It: A Foundation for Exploration and Resilience in a Complex World

Central to the model is the concept of a "grounded space." This represents the core set of values, principles, and practices that serve as the anchor for individual growth and exploration. Life's journey becomes an expedition outward from this secure foundation, driven by a continuous pursuit of learning and understanding through experience. The question "What if?" becomes the guiding compass, propelling individuals beyond the familiar, but always with the reassuring presence of the grounded space as a point of return.


This outward exploration necessarily involves venturing to the "outer limits" of the model, encountering diverse cultural expressions and societal structures. Some of these may exhibit arrested or even stagnant growth, offering contrasting perspectives on individual development. However, the thorough grounding in the central values and practices enables individuals to navigate these landscapes of potential "cultural and societal toxicity" with informed judgment and a firm sense of self. This awareness allows them to appreciate the diversity of human experience while remaining tethered to their own core identity.

Our Superpower: Our Collective Wisdom

The Mastering Chaos: The Musician's Way Model is based on the interaction between two ranges of human behaviour:

Formal - Informal


Reason - Emotion


The Formal - Informal range describes how humans might respond to each other. Examples of the formal would include ceremonies, certain military parade ground behaviours, most school structures and the associated rules. Also included would be the rules of sport, House of Commons procedures, and musical scores and their parts. In addition, formal would include cultural norms and customs including even unwritten codes of practice associated with many human endeavours such as ‘how to behave’ at certain events, meetings and concerts, including the clothing we wear and even how we stand and sit. The informal could include gatherings around the coffee machine just outside the meeting, sharing a meal together, joking and using nicknames. We sit and talk differently and even our use of personal space changes in informal situations.


The Reason - Emotion range describes the possibilities we each have available to us when we make decisions.  It ranges from the strictly rational, evidence-based scientific approach right across to the way we get a 'sense' of something, a gut feeling. We might just take a guess at what's happening, and even get mystical. This also includes the mental space of believing something is 'right' even when we're wrong.

By combining decision-making with levels of group formality or informality it is possible to define four STATES which appear everywhere in music. This is helpful because in music we can more readily witness these states. Beyond music whilst they are still present they may not seem so accessible. They show the broad spread of human interaction and influence.  It encompasses both the best and the worst of us. It shows how taking things to extremes produces different forms of toxicity. 


Making music is what humans do that makes us different from all the other species on this planet. When we make music we invoke these four states:





These states are available not just to music groups but also to non-musical groups too. In music all four states are present in plain sight. Other parts of our lives can be confusing and we often find it difficult to make sense of changing circumstances. The two states which seem to be behind the confusion seem to be 'Curious/Challenging' and 'Playful/Spontaneous'. 


In adult life many people find it hard to challenge others (to speak truth to power).   We also feel incredibly uncomfortable when we are forced to dramatically change what we do and do something we've never done before and just hope for the best, to improvise or act spontaneously. We'd rather be in the safety of formality or instruction. 

For many musicians this is also true. Many musicians need the safety of the printed notes. However given the confidence the printed notes provides they will respond magnificently to inspiring fellow performers, leaders and conductors.  In many ways this kind of musician reflects the position many people find themselves in the non-musical world.


However jazz musicians will venture off the beaten tracks so-to-speak and are prepared to challenge convention. More will be explained later about they do that's different and why we should be prepared to develop our ability to take their kind of risks.


Many musicians enjoy performing the really freaky, far out stuff that in some people's ears sounds chaotic. What is so encouraging about free improvisation is just much it stimulates the creativity within us.


In non-musical circles we tend to be familiar with the STRUCTURED and the INSPIRATIONAL. Many of us, however, find being CHALLENGING uncomfortable. Being SPONTANEOUS is frequently unavailable to us at work or even in the home. CHALLENGING and SPONTANOUS are states in which we tend to have little experience.  During childhood we play and experience everything but over time we lose some of this facility. We are told to 'grow up' and to 'act our age' which in some senses might be advisable, but over time we run the risk of losing our ability to be completely ourselves.


It is important to be aware that the states are not completely separate and distinct; they have a relationship with each other.  Knowledge and experience of each of the states is strengthened by familiarity with the other three.


Remaining in one state is therefore usually an unhelpful strategy. Moving flexibly between each as required is far more effective. For example, you might intuitively sense something feels right but you sensibly flip over to check you have the data (the rational state) to support your position. Although to some this is obvious you might be surprised how few humans actually do this.

In addition to having flexibility across the states, it is necessary to be aware of which state might be more appropriate for any given set of circumstances. Examining what might 'trigger' you into a negative state is a good place to begin. Knowing your triggers is helpful but knowing what state to replace it with is essential. 'Triggers' materialise from a pattern of responses you have repeated over time. Any of the four states described in the model could be the most appropriate response. Experience in the four states will tell you which one is best. It is worth finding the time to explore these states to see what effect they have on your psyche. One of the safest spaces is in music, both listening to different types and also playing music of different kinds especially ones outside your comfort zone. 


Some groups or teams are often required to follow instructions for example car manufacturers, fast-food providers, and even symphony orchestras. Assuming that the process produces the required result this is the domain of the rational. You might also notice that without the inclusion of some elements of the other states the music doesn't work. Beyond the domain of music there is a certain sense of something missing from the process being employed which doesn't allow for motivation, challenge and a little spontaneity.  


Then of coourse it is quite possible to take reason and structure too far.  This produces systems of human experience that are progressively ever more restrictive. This is the territory of the autocratic. Limits are placed on individual expression and there is a strong emphasis on conformity. 


Feeling energised by a highly motivated leader is inspirational for everyone involved (some political party leaders, social media influencers, and in the musical field orchestral conductors). At appropriate levels teams and organisations can benefit from such individuals by their ability to raise the group's performance. On the other hand the power of the leader can be taken too far.  Organisations can be dominated by their leaders. This is the realm of the dictator and the abuser, where power is given over to the leader, and an individual's existence is dependent on the will of and the belief in the leader. 



Other groups have guidelines or a sense of structure but might need to be flexible in what they do and the way they do it. It goes without saying that jazz bands.are in this space. It might seem surprising to include teachers and the medical profession in this state, but this is because whilst what they do is highly structured and clearly based on reason they can often find themselves in challenging situations.  Whilst they have systems and processes in place which they have to abide by they will often find themselves needing to think outside the box, so-to-speak. 


Sometimes professional decisions run the risk of being seen as too challenging or even non-conformist. Organisational safety is therefore paramount in these circumstances.   In jazz terms, the new riff might initially 'jar' somewhat but it would not be blocked. It might feel as if it isn't conforming to what's already been established, but it would nevertheless be absorbed as valid and responded to appropriately. The Challenging State can stray into very uncomfortable territory. Whistle-blowers are by definition, challengers or non-conformists. Organisations must have the flexibility to allow concerns to be raised in order to be handled effectively. A kind of organisational blindness can result initially, in the individual not being heard, and possibly eventually experiencing denial, by those in authority. Damaging possibilities can then, in extremis, emerge. A move by the organisation into extreme autocratic results in threats to the whistle-blower. On the other hand the organisation might shift into extreme chaos where it is itself damaged by not heeding the dangers uncovered by the 'challenging' whistle-blower.  



There is within humans a strong desire to be free, perhaps even a little bit wild. This is the territory of the spontaneous (for example creatives, inventors, and in music group free improvisation). Sometimes organisations need to think the unthinkable. There are times where reason, process and formality don't work. At other times the inspirational leader, despite all the promises he might have made to put things right, doesn't have the answers.  Challenging might be enough if all you can see is the problem but not have any answers. 


Being spontaneous can feel unsafe. In Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs the need for safety is a prime concern. Without it teams and individuals daren't take risks. Great ideas come from this space. Fear kills creativity.  However allowing a completely open mindset can result in a completely new perspective, a totally original solution, or possibly even an advanced new product. If reason and structure are the organisation's only drivers then none of this is possible.  

Again stray too far to the extremes leads to chaos and anarchy. This means that even being Spontanous needs the support of the Rational. They are opposite ends of the spectrum but both need each other. Complete loss of structure is unnerving. People feel unsafe. Lawlessness encroaches into the neighbourhood and then community runs a risk of breaking down.   

One of the most powerful conclusions one can draw from this is that groups, teams and organisations that can incorporate the behaviour of all four states are likely to be more successful. Tendencies to adopt only one or two states leads to inflexibility and eventual organisational demise. On the outer fringes you can see various examples of where extreme positions have been held which are self-evidently to the detriment of human development. In these situations it the toxicity in its various is the outcome of an ongoing inappropriate response to a problem, situation or context where a leader, team or organisation persists in operating in the wrong ‘state’ and fails to draw on the wider collective wisdom.

Want to deepen your understanding? - Take a look at The Mastering Chaos Blogs.

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