Chaos Engineering – a principle well known in software engineering – involves running thoughtful, planned experiments that teach systems how to behave in the face of failure. It is a tool that is often used to build immunity in technical systems – in other words, by presenting harm to the curated system, we may be able to find and mitigate potential weaknesses.

These experiments have the added benefit of helping teams build muscle memory in resolving outages – similar to how we run test fire drills. By breaking things on purpose, we surface unknown issues that could impact a commonly used system. For businesses this provides vital insight which can help alleviate the customer experience.

How can it be applied to businesses?

From a technical point of view, chaos testing particular systems within a business is helpful. For example, an outage that ripped through Amazon Web Services affected many well-established and tech-savvy companies, costing them several hours of operation; however, Netflix came out untouched due to implementing chaos engineering the pre-emptively predicted such an outage and coming up with a resolution in case it occurred in real life.

This process clearly has its benefits – so how can we apply the same process in a more practical, business matter? Strategic planning that focuses on risk management, effective communication and collaboration between teams are all vital. Once solving the current problems that can pose risk, businesses can look at further potential risks that may help them to come out unscathed. 

Successful execution

In order to effectively execute chaos engineering, being malleable and open minded to the variety of risks that could potentially come your way is important. This means developing interpersonal skills is key for leaders that want to successfully execute chaos engineering.

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To achieve the above, holistic leadership is key – it incorporates not only what leaders need to do and how they will do it, but also the ‘who’ and the ‘where’ of leadership. Such an approach will take into account a variety of cultures, livelihoods, backgrounds and experiences in order to truly make a decision that considers everyone – this, therefore, will also expose leaders to all of the many risks at hand, allowing them to effectively prepare for them.

Managing risk is a key interpersonal skill for leaders. A self-leadership skill I expect to see more demand for is risk-taking, due to the benefits it can offer businesses. The rewards of risk-taking as a leader include longevity, meaningful experiences, increased finance and a more motivated, loyal and trustworthy team. 

Unfortunately, according to research conducted by the McKinsey Global Institute, there is a weak correlation between proficiency in self-leadership and interpersonal skills and higher levels of education. Therefore, trying and testing is a good way to test ‘risk’. 

A way to analyse risk-taking skills is by using digital simulations – the imitation of a real-world process to give the team or leader the chance to take their own risks and learn from them. We use this approach with our students at Arden University, for example, as it helps to teach the interpersonal skills needed to overcome failure and think creatively to manage risk.

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