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Chaos is a Ladder | Video

Chaos is a Ladder | Video

From time to time, I like to take a quote out of context, and examine what Project Managers can learn from it. ‘Chaos is a Ladder’ is a great quote to analyze.

You may think this one is for Game of Thrones fans. In fact, despite its deep cynicism, this quote has a lot to teach all of us.

This video is safe for viewing in the workplace.

This is learning, so, sit back and enjoy


In an exchange between two secondary characters, one says:

‘Chaos. A gaping pit waiting to swallow us all.’

The other, Petyr Baelish, replies:

‘Chaos isn’t a pit. Chaos is a ladder.

Many who try to climb it fail, and never get to try again. The fall breaks them.

And some are given a chance to climb, but refuse. They cling to the realm, or love, or the gods… Illusions.

Only the ladder is real. The climb is all there is. But they’ll never know this. Not until it’s too late.’

Let’s address the cynicism first…

In Project Management, the climb is not all there is. We reach the top, and it is often worth reaching. Call me a starry-eyed optimist, but if I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t take on projects. And, whilst I can’t say every project has led to sunlit uplands, most have led to real, worthwhile change. They have made positive contributions to the lives of my stakeholders.

Chaos as a Metaphor for Projects

Chaos is a common metaphor for projects. My friends Elise Stevens and Glen Alleman run blogs called:

  • Fix My Project Chaos (Elise – now renamed), and
  • Herding Cats (Glen)

And Dan Bradbary and David Garrett wrote the book, ‘Herding Chickens’.

Chaos isn’t a Pit

Where I agree with the Baelish character is that chaos isn’t a pit we find ourselves falling into. It is the route out of the pit. There may be chaos, but Elise fixes it, Glen herds the cats, and Dan and David (coincidence?) herd chickens.

That’s what we do, as project managers.

We take a chaotic, complex, uncertain, situation, and we climb upwards, one rung at a time.

VUCA and Chaos

The acronym VUCA is getting a lot of attention, lately:

  • Volatile
  • Uncertain
  • Complex
  • Ambiguous

Check-out our video on VUCA if you’re not familiar with the term.

But, isn’t this just what project managers created our discipline to address?

VUCA Prime

And then Robert Johansen coined the VUCA Prime formulation to address a VUCA world with four responses. Wasn’t he just describing our job:

  • Vision
  • Understanding
  • Clarity
  • Agility

So, I would argue that vision, understanding, clarity, and agility are our route out of chaos. The ladder is our route out of chaos. A less appealing quote, perhaps. But a better analysis to build your career upon.

Carefully curated video recommendations for you:

What Kit does a Project Manager Need?

I asked Project Managers in a couple of forums what material things you need to have, to do your job as a Project Manager. They responded magnificently. I compiled their answers into a Kit list. I added my own. 

Check out the Kit a Project Manager needs

Note that the links are affiliated.

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About the Author Mike Clayton

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.

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