October 25, 2021

Our Review of ‘Chaos: Making a New Science’ by James Gleick

4 min read
By Colette Weston

Life can be pretty chaotic. At The Smarty Train, we love sinking our teeth into complexity and trying to make more sense of it. And that’s exactly what James Gleick does in his multi-award-nominated book “Chaos: Making A New Science”.

This seminal classic (considered by many here at TST to be a staple read) explores how complex systems like the weather, technology, and economic markets are all essentially a variation of the same thing, and how we can learn lots of different things from that one thing. It’s pretty deep.

By the end of the book, we were left with five main ideas about complex systems, and how we might practically apply these to our work in early talent recruitment and development:

1) Dynamic systems are everywhere

One of the coolest things we learned from the book is that early talent recruitment, training and development form a dynamic system, just like the weather or an ant colony. We can apply the lessons from other dynamic systems, from economic markets to the human immune system, to get a better understanding of what really goes on when hundreds of graduates search through hundreds of employers for internships, placements and jobs.

2) Simple systems give rise to complex behaviour

Graduate seeks job ↔ employer seeks graduate. Seems simple enough, right? But research shows that some employers struggle to attract just a few graduates, while others are flooded with applications. How does a process that should be straightforward become so complicated? And, more importantly, what approach should you be taking?

3) Reductionism does not cut it: we have to go beyond the basics

The Butterfly Effect tells us that although we understand all of the essential forces that create the weather, we will never master weather forecasting by simply using the basics. Just ask any Brit! You need to have a holistic understanding of the early-talent market, and especially the role technology plays in that market, to figure out how to be more appealing to graduate learning styles. In short, it’s time to move beyond the basics.

4) Sensitive Dependence on Initial Conditions:

The smallest variations in the way you start something can have huge effects on how it turns out later down the line. It’s a bit like missing your regular train by a minute, which means you miss your connection, and so you end up being fifteen minutes late instead of just one. The smallest differences in your campus strategies, application processes, on-boarding, and development approaches can have enormous effects on the future of your graduate talent pool and organisation as a whole.

5) Emergence: The big picture is greater than the sum of its parts.

With the proliferation of social media and smartphones, Gen Z are processing, sharing and acting on information like never before. Employers have to be just as cutting-edge. We’ve experienced first hand the amazing benefits technology can have during graduate recruitment and training.

Here’s three reasons why we loved reading this novel:

1. We love to learn; these ideas were fascinating and grounded in science.
2. It gave us a new way of thinking about the world.
3. It made us think about our world and the graduate space differently


We found that things we might never have thought to compare, like the human immune system, financial markets, and early talent recruitment, are actually strikingly similar. So the next time you’re trend-spotting, try applying a chaotic scientific lense. You might find that things have more in common than you’d expect.

Chaos: Making a New Science
By James Gleick (@JamesGleick)
Viking Books, 400 Pages

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