Become an Enemy of Entropy

There is almost nowhere that I go that I don’t have at least a little pack of 3x5 cards and a pen.

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Ideas come and go, but if you want to remember them, you write them down. Same with any conference I attend. Part of what I do is take notes in order to report what happened in the pages of Automation World. Part of what I record are ideas for future topics. And a last part are things I note for personal growth. Combined, this habit helps me stay alert to changes in the environment and generate more ideas for business.

If you heard sounds of extreme withdrawal during the first week of August, it was from me. I was off the grid for more than a week through a combination of a recovering computer and attendance at two conferences. The first conference was NI Week, and you can get a feel of my experience there on page 18. The second part of the week, I attended the Leadership Summit of the Willow Creek Association (see "Be Ahead of Change"). There were outstanding speakers and I took a ton of notes.

One of the speakers was noted author (“Leading the Revolution,” “The Future of Management”), Gary Hamel. The point of his presentation was overcoming organizational entropy. Entropy, you may recall from your high school physics (or maybe not), is the Second Law of Thermodynamics and may be stated, “In any natural process, there exists an inherent tendency toward the dissipation of useful energy.”

Organizational entropy happens when visions become policies, which become procedures, which become rules, which become habits. Hamel asks an interesting question: Why is it in our organizations that we must obtain change and new energy through “decapitation”—that is, cutting off the head (person)? It’s similar to the only way change comes in a political dictatorship.

Take the challenge

Analysis is of no use with a prescription. Hamel challenges us to become “enemies of entropy.” He gives us ideas. You can become an enemy of entropy in these ways:

Overcome temptation to take refuge in denial. You see this when people dismiss, rationalize, mitigate current reality. Face the facts. Treat every belief as a hypothesis—that is, an explanation of reality to be tested to assure that it’s still valid. Humility is a survival strategy, so listen to others. Especially listen to renegades and dissidents. They often see new ways, and if they aren’t successful in trying new things in their organizations, they go off and start new, competing organizations.

Generate more strategic options. Make change more exciting than standing pat. Innovation always follows power law, that is, the sum of the “little” ideas turns out to be as great, if not greater, than the “big hits” at the beginning. People are so anxious to find the one big idea that we don’t generate enough ideas to find the one that works.

Deconstruct what you already believe. Ask what hasn’t changed in the last four-to-five years.

These techniques are not feasible in top-down, autocratic structures. Is there a small group at the top who has a monopoly on ideas? It’s hard for ideas to come from the bottom. That’s why the dissidents leave and start their own, often competing, organizations. An alternative model, for example, is the WL Gore Co., inventor of GoreTex fabric. The creed there is, “I want people who innovate all the time and fight bureaucracy none of the time.”

Leaders today need to mobilize, connect and support people in the organization. Look for types of people who are dynamic, malleable and experimental.

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