From Enron to Evernote: The Quest for an Order beyond Organization

From Enron to Evernote: The Quest for an Order beyond Organization

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Fortune Magazine named it the most innovative company in America for six consecutive years. With claimed revenues of 101 billion dollars and 20,000 plus employees, they ranked as the leading energy company in the world. It seemed simultaneously impossible yet undeniable. I lived in the milieu of this company’s meteoric rise in the late 1990’s, pastoring a number of their executives in the north Houston church I served. I had never been around such a high flying, uber-confident group of people before or since. They were, the so-called, smartest guys in the room. In December 2001, about a year after I left Texas, the company came crashing down like a house of cards. You know who I am talking about. It was the Empire of Enron, whose efforts to control the energy industry resulted in the unparalleled chaos of a power failure.
Millions and millions of people, present company included, were left stunned at this collapse, literally holding the bag with our worthless stock shares inside. At the same time, something about it didn’t surprise us. We knew something was not quite right, but we allowed ourselves to be deceived by the powerful appearances. After all, we so often hear, “You can’t argue with success.”
I read books, countless news, magazine  and blog articles and talked about it endlessly with friends. Being in the midst of it all made it a powerful but tragic learning experience.
Through it all, one little story stands out to me as symbolic of the whole ordeal. They say on the eve of collapse, Enron founder and chairman of the board, Ken Lay, was comparing fabric swatches for the seats on the new 45 million dollar jet he was preparing to purchase.
It is perhaps an apocryphal story, but it points to a larger reality we face constantly. Something about us wants to cover over inner chaos with outward organization. Our home is in collapse so we rearrange the furniture. Our company is in dissaray so we polish up the policy manual. The “get your life organized and in order” industry flourishes. From Omnifocus to Things and from Evernote to Google Docs there must be a thousand productivity apps online today. David Allen is the virtual high priest of productivity with his “GTD” empire.
Sure, all of these products and practices have their place and can serve good ends but the bigger question for me is, “Are they working?” Is all this organizing producing real order, or are we merely covering over the deeper chaos?
At the close of business more and more people are coming to the realization that organization does not equal productivity, nor does it follow that greater productivity leads to deeper peace. Are we picking fabric swatches for the jet on the eve of the crash? Are we endlessly rearranging the furniture as the foundation crumbles? Are we ratcheting up the policy manual when we need to be exploring issues in the company’s culture?
What if we could trade in “organization” for creativity and “productivity” for flourishing? Would we do it? What if it meant we had to give up control? What if “organization” and “productivity” are merely the predictable outcomes of an “ethic of control.” What if we could trade in our compulsion to control chaos for an unmanageable order with unimaginable outcomes? Would we do it? I once heard a philosopher say that given a choice between more freedom and more order, human beings will invariably choose more order and that it inevitably leads to tyranny.
I am coming to believe that this unmanageable order with unimaginable outcomes is at the heart of the Kingdom of God; that the order of the Kingdom of God emerges from chaos as we release control. It helps me understand what Jesus meant when he said, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you.” It brings clarity to his wisdom at Bethany, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about so many things when only one thing is necessary.” It brings me deeper into the understanding of the command to “Remember the Sabbath.”
Am I finding the only necessary thing? Or am I being seduced by all my systems of so-called organization? Am I renovating my inmost place or rearranging my external furniture?
What about you?


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