Daily leadership activities to leverage complexity. 7th: Entropy and tipping points

Entropy is a disorder of a system. In simple terms, the disorder of a system is the number of not ordered parts of a system. Disorder is preventing systems to perform work optimally. Entropy is not how mass the system is, but the number of the possible states the system can take. In pure science, it will be how energy stored in bonds between atoms is spread. 

Atoms & bonds? isn’t that sound familiar? I already used atoms, bones, and molecules when discussing how to organize a company. In this post, I will take this concept one step forward and explain how it relates to entropy and tipping points.

In thermodynamics, entropy is increasing all the time. Every movement causes an interaction between particles,  and this interaction will release energy. It can be water that changing to gas or two balls bouncing one another. Each interaction generates energy and keeps on changing the allocation of energy at the atomic bond level. 

What causes entropy? nothing, it created spontaneously. Hard to get, but this is the reality. Following what we discussed so far, our situation is not promising. Entropy, which is the disorder of a system, is growing over time and creates chaos. Even if we want to prevent entropy, we can’t since it happens spontaneously. We can put effort to create some order, but overtime disorder and chaos will win. 

The same idea and laws apply to any social system. Instead of atoms, we have people. People are creating bonds between them and those bonds hold energy. overtime actions that people take (influenced by external events, personal conditions, and other reasons), will create more energy and increase the entropy of a system. As mentioned above, this will make the social system more disordered and less capable of organizing work. We can put efforts in place to reduce disorder, but this effort is eventually increasing the disorder of a system. This is a vicious cycle that every social system experience. 

How to keep the balance between chaos and order? Understanding entropy and chaos is the first step. If we motivate by a mental model that there is something responsible to create order in our universe, we will be surprised and not ready to deal with entropy. by the way, even the entropy of the universe is increasing all the time.

The good news is that although there are entropy and chaos, there is order as well. Without order, I wouldn’t write this post and scientists wouldn’t discover the concept of entropy. There is some balance between those two that enable progress. Otherwise, just chaos will take place.

The best tactic (in my opinion) to deal with entropy is to put the effort into creating order when we can see that entropy reaches a level that will generate too much chaos. This is where the concept of tipping points will help us.  

Tipping points are thresholds that, when exceeded, can lead to a large change in the state of a system. The interesting thing about tipping points is their behavior. Tipping points are growing exponentially. They will have slow growth for a long time, and at some point, they will grow at a rapid pace and then become tipping points. 

The behavior of tipping points is misleading. People underestimate them when they are growing slowly. When they reach a certain level of increase, it’s too late for people to respond or react (unless they are going through the same process). The best example is new startups that all the major players underestimate until their growth enables them to take over a market. At a certain point, it doesn’t matter what the establishment will do; it’s too late.

Entropy follows the same behavior of tipping points. It takes a lot of time to boil the water comparing to the time they take to change state to gas. With a good understanding of our social system, we can look for entropy. When the entropy reaches a certain level (before the tipping point) we should execute known actions to get more order into the system and then wait again for the next tipping point. 

Companies never have enough resources. Spending effort all the time on reducing chaos is not a wise strategy compared to spending resources when entropy reaches a certain level. too ordered system will reach a state of equilibrium, which has many disadvantages. Equilibrium is a sign that a system will die. It’s the opposite of chaos. The dynamics between order and chaos are healthy.

This post is adding new daily work for a manager/leader that wants to be on top of complexity. Monitoring entropy and being ready to respond when it reaches a certain level is not an easy task. There are multiple tipping points a leader needs to monitor to prevent chaos.

#AgileManagement #Leadership #Management #HR

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