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Entropy and Speaking Truth to Power Published: Sunday, July 8, 2001 By: Dr. Manuel Ángel Morales

The concept of entropy comes from science. It is becoming popular within organizational and management sciences. It derives from the second law of thermodynamics, which says that everything that is organized will break down or run down unless it is maintained.

Examples of entropy can be found throughout the everyday world. Desk will get messy. Cars will wear out. Books get scattered and jumbled. Lacking nutrients, organisms die and rot. In each case, a highly organized system will inevitably will move to a state of disorder and chaos unless energy (which is equivalent to hard and intelligent work) is brought into the system to re-establish orders.

A company, even one with a long history of quality performance, needs to introduce fresh organizational energy and knowledge into its system to stay off the inexorable forces of decay. Leadership is fundamental in order to confront this institutional tendency. Leaders usually begin to work with a strong sense of mission, determined to sort out certain problems, and with much positive energy. They may even achieve certain degrees of change for their organizations. Once they have accomplished their initial agendas, they run the risk of loosing the driving force of their vision and running out of gasoline. A series of new challenge may work out for a while, by way of new products or services, buy-outs and takeovers to provide organizational adrenaline. But the high cannot be sustained indefinitely. A different order of change is needed…

The challenge for leaders is not to become blind, and to look and want to see the new need for themselves. The danger is when the key actors come to enjoy the comforts and the trappings of power. In this case, their program is simply one of staying there. Business as usual. Instead of continuing to add-value of their own, the leaders start to diminish that of competitors, both outside and inside.

Entropy has its ways with individuals and organizations. Without renewal the organism will wither and decay. It is a process that cannot be prevented. But organizational developers can respond to it, not merely replacing the sick element to restore the status quo, but improving the general fitness of the system and the organization, and moving forward.

Yes, this tendency has also some individual psychology applications. Personal motivation, creativity and innovation proceed along a declining path. We can move to stagnate if we stayed unchanged and unchallenged for too long. We get tired, stressed and sometimes bored. People sometimes can become part of the problem instead of becoming part of the solution.

The organizational developers, those risky institutional actors that dare to live dangerously within companies, true change agents in charge, are able to see what is needed and when, and they are able to initiate timely corrective actions for the good of the organization and the people concerned. They dare to speak truth the power to power… 

Copyright 2001 QBS, Inc.
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