Nobel Prize physicist Erwin Schrödinger wrote a book in 1944 with the title What is Life? It has been described as one of the most influential books in the history of science. Its object was to investigate the extent to which life could be accounted for in terms of physics and chemistry, despite our 'obvious inability' to define life. He had two themes--'order from disorder' and 'order from order'. Order from disorder emphasised that life fed on negative entropy, which is a way of saying that whereas the universe as a whole is becoming less ordered (positive entropy) life creates greater order (negative entropy). This is not an exception to the rule of the universe for the rule simply states that, whereas the universe as a whole is running down, there are enclaves where the opposite may happen and one such enclave is human organisms. There is nothing mysterious about this. Living organisms get their energy to do this from the sun. The sun's energy is trapped by plants. Animal get their energy from feeding on plants...
Schrödinger's second principle 'order from order' was about how information was passed from generation to generation by genes. he predicted the general nature of the gene more than a decade before the structure of DNA was understood. [Birch 1999, p. 4]
Entropy is the only quantity in the physical sciences that requires a particular direction for time, sometimes called an arrow of time. As one goes "forward" in time, the second law of thermodynamics says, the entropy of an isolated system will increase. Hence, from one perspective, entropy measurement is a way of distinguishing the past from the future. However in thermodynamic systems that are not closed, entropy can decrease with time: many systems, including living systems, reduce local entropy at the expense of an environmental increase, resulting in a net increase in entropy. Examples of such systems and phenomena include the formation of certain crystals, the workings of a refrigerator and living organisms.
Since entropy is the measure of disorder, we can easily create a relative measure of it for any group of people for “equal priority = no priority = chaos = high entropy”, conversely "strong & clear priorities = strong focus = well-defined values-system (strange-attractor) = understandable order = low entropy". This means all we have to to measure the relative entropy of groups, is to undertake an analysis of their value priorities. High group priorities and only a few values will be low entropy and a well focused group. Low group priorities and a large number of shared priorities means high entropy and a low focused group.
The diagram below shows the life-cycle of an organisation or group of people:
Figure 1. Group/Organisational LifeCycle
- At foundation and boom, entropy is low because shared values are few and priorities are high—strong norms which guide behaviour will emerge
- In the period of decline, entropy becomes higher and higher because shared values become many and their collective priorities are low—a state of anomie exists when norms break down-- many people are doing their own thing—the organisation/group is becoming chaotic
- The group/organisation's only chance of surviving and again becoming successful is to rebuild a robust values-system (strange-attractor)--when this is in place the entropy will again be low.
Keeping track of group/organisation's entropy is a way of keeping track of the group/organisation's health. When entropy starts to rise, alarm bells should be ringing.
The Entropy Paradox
While it's important for an organisation's entropy to be low. For individuals, growth depends on them following a regular entropy cycle as depicted in Figure 2. The top of the diagram represents a person working from their primary brain-preference modes. Here they are most competent and dependable. However, if they never engage the other parts of their brain their development will be stunted. It is important that everyone in the organisation is given the freedom and encouragement to undertake fun activities matching their least brain preference on a regular basis (at least two hours per week). This will unlock their creativity, and lead to holistic brain development--i.e. their brain becomes more complex, and though they are cycling through low to high entropy, in the long run their brain entropy will be decreasing. Hence the paradox, people need to feed off periods of chaotic fun activities (high entropy) in order to be more creative, more sophisticated (low entropy) individuals.
Figure 2. Entropy Cycle
In summary, people have to be given their space, time & freedom in organisations so they can have fun in their creative mode—the saying, "All work and no play makes Jack/Jill a dull boy/girl” turns out to be a key principle behind personal development. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, in this video, gives a few good examples of people who have this freedom. The Australian movie The Dish also gives a good example of an organisation which is maximally effective and successful because its people are continually moving through the entropy cycle.
Entropy should not be a static measurement, rather the conditions should be set so that people can cycle through it. A good measure which shows if an organisation is “ripe” for enabling this cycle to exist in an organisation is the leisure/pleasure score in the diagram below:
Figure 3. The Cultural Field Map
An organisation with a low or zero leisure/pleasure score and a high control/order score would be a low entropy (i.e. orderly and boring) organisation. On the other hand, an organisation with a moderately high leisure/pleasure score and a low control/order score would be an even lower-entropy organisation yet be a fun creative place to work, provided it has a clearly defined values/vision/mission statement based on its people own values, and, encourages teams with a diversity of brain-preference to engage in regular creative mode activities. It has a lower-entropy than the highly controlled no-fun organisation because it is more complex/sophisticated in its operation--you could say, it's more alive! The Chaordic Model (Figure 4), in conjunction with the values alignment model of Figure 5, are designed to create such an organisation.
Figure 4. The Chaordic Model of Organisational Development
Figure 5. Organisational Alignment Model
To create a low-entropy high performing organisation, each person and each group in the organisation must give attention to:
- Concretization. Concretizing their priority vision, focus and vision values (using techniques such as: asking VAK questions about each value, concept mapping, and/or Repertory Grid). "Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate." - Carl Jung
- Purpose. Having regard any published organisational values, formulate personal and group values, vision and mission statements. Make statements which are uplifting and motivating. "Where there is no vision, the people perish." - Proverbs 29:18
- Will. Each person reflects on their foundation and vision values, and brain-preference. Vision values motivate so, "Will this organisation enable you to be passionate about and motivated by your vision values?" Foundation values can demotivate if they are not satisfied so, "Do you have strategies and skills in place that turn these values into a solid foundation rather than an Achilles heel?" "In this organisation/group, are you able to focus mainly on tasks which match your work-mode brain-preferences and priority values?"
- "How do your top 10 values compare to your group/organisation's top 10 values?" "What common ground do you see?" "If your values are markedly different to the group/organisation's values, can you see a way you could happily live your own values whilst at the same contributing to the group/organisation's values?" "How does the group energy management profile compare with your personal profile?"
- Capability. "Do all in our group have the skills, resources and abilities to live our values in our workplace?" SQ = Spiritual Intelligence, EQ = Emotional Intelligence and IQ = intellectual intelligence, "Do we have the knowledge to develop these intelligences within our group?" The group skills profile indicates the skills needs of each group based on the values they all have. "What are the implications of this profile for our group?"
The above program works, and it works very well, because it creates low entropy organisation--i.e. an organisation with a strong values-system (strange attractor) sourced in its people's actual values--self-organisation does the rest.