Former president Florentino Perez built Real Madrid’s football team based on the “Galacticos strategy” (Spanish for galactic, referring to superstars) where he focused on acquiring superstars and marketing the franchise. Despite having an alluring squad, Casillas, Roberto Carlos, David Beckham, Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo, Raul, and Ronaldo, Real Madrid failed to deliver.

An absolutely underwhelming and quite frankly embarrassing failure that turned out to be. Sure they won some but that was the bare minimum that those players should have achieved and that’s pretty much what they achieved. How on earth did it happen? Despite all the quality and credentials they had, they could never truly deliver success. Whether this was because of club dynamics or the players couldn’t emerge out of failures, or simply the fact that the players were extremely over-rated and never had the mindset to win in a team, the question still remains to be explored.

Similarly at the heart of many organisations today there are star teams or individuals who are not able to deliver. This is a deeper problem that blocks organisations from transforming and innovating. In today’s volatile business environment and supersonic technological advancements, transformation and innovation become key to deliver shareholder value and achieve customer satisfaction. To overcome challenges posed by volatility, ambiguity, and prolonged uncertainty an organisation requires teams and processes that are formed through a continuous realignment of resources and capabilities.

Transformation and innovation-capable teams are made up of people who are not only high performers but have an inherent balance of skills, attitudes, and mindsets that allow them to sustain orientation, focus, agility, and optimism in the face of ambiguity and uncertainty for prolonged periods of time. Unfortunately, not all top-performing and academically brilliant team members are equipped.

In 1991, Danish politician and social worker Uffe Elbæk took out a $100,000 personal loan to open an unusual business school called Kaospilot. The vision of the business school was to develop a new skill set in students for navigating uncertain problems. He subsequently saw the opportunity to teach these skills to business leaders who needed to do the same. Chaos pilots are needed on a transformative and innovative team to wade through uncertain waters for prolonged periods of time.

Chaos pilots are people who can creatively lead a project through ambiguity and uncertainty. They inherently have the capability, but most importantly they also have other critical skills, such as the ability to create structure and modify processes within chaos and take action. Leaders who are chaos pilots are able to drive a team forward on a project even as the environment around them is negative and fluctuating.

How to identify a Chaos Pilot:

  • They are high performers
  • They are people who make those around them uncomfortable by challenging the status quo
  • Hold a unique balance of skill, attitude, and mindset
  • Strong problem framing skills
  • They have sustained focus, agility, and optimism even in prolonged uncertainty
  • Comfortably lead a project through uncertainty
  • They have the ability to create structure within chaos and take action
  • Drive a team forward on a project in a fluctuating environment
  • Divergent thinking, convergent action, and influential communication
  • Skilled at implementation and advanced technologies
  • Future-oriented and with real-world project experience
  • They are often seen posing “why” questions

(This Perspective was originally published on September 9, 2021 by Shekhar Badve on LinkedIn)