Physics in the workplace

Entropy never decreases.

This is the second law of thermodynamics.

Entropy is the idea that everything tends to drift into chaos or disorder.  This is certainly true of my desk.  And kitchen.  The classic example from the kitchen is a dropped cup.  It will smash into pieces and however long you leave those pieces there they will never reassemble into something you can drink a cup of tea from.  Or imagine a black ink blot dropped into a cup of water.  The blackness will dissipate and never reassemble.


The second law, that entropy never decreases,  is very elegant.  Essentially entropy doesn’t experience entropy.  In fact for the universe as a whole entropy is increasing.


The law that entropy never decreases is a paradox.  It appears to contradict itself and yet it is observably true.   For many years scientists were puzzled by it.  Nineteenth century physicists believed that the fundamental laws of physics should be reversible.  So if entropy can increase, the laws of physics should mean that it must be able to decrease.  But every experience tells you otherwise.


It takes energy to decrease entropy.  As the full second law states : The entropy of an isolated system always rises. But put some energy in and order can be achieved – in a crystal of salt, in humans, even in galaxies


This means many important things to science.  I think it can also be observed in the culture of the workplace.  Negative energy doesn’t decrease left to itself.  Positive energy needs to be continually reinforced.  At MediaCom we have the much loved Freshness programme (scary pumpkins and the roof on fire being two recent examples).


Over the last dozen years the numbers of MediaCommers have increased substantially and of course many people have joined and some have left.  Yet the essential culture of the place has stayed intact despite all the increased pressures that any media organisation has been under for the last five years.  This hasn’t happened by accident.  A lot of effort, from everyone in the company, goes into keeping our culture fresh, every day.


Workplace cultures with negative cultures tend to reinforce themselves over time.  Workplace cultures with positive cultures need energy to reinforce that culture.  This isn’t a law of physics but it is extremely likely to happen so it fits with expert thinking on the subject. This is clearly observable among organisations.  It is probably my second law of organisational culture.


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