Life is full of small decisions: Should I pick up this sock from the floor? Should I wash the dishes before going to bed? What about fixing the leaky faucet in the bathroom?
Leaving a sock on the floor is a manifestation of a concept in physics that you may have heard of: entropy. Entropy is a measure of the amount of energy lost in a system. If a system loses too much energy, it will disintegrate into chaos. It only takes a little energy to pick up a sock. But if you don’t take care of your garden, let the pipes get clogged, and never fix electrical problems, it all adds up to a chaotic house that would take a lot of energy to fix. And this chaos will drain your time and your ability to do other things.
The good news is that entropy has an opposite – negentropy. As a researcher who studies social systems, I have found that thinking in terms of negentropy and energy can help you tackle entropy and chaos in everyday life.
Minimize energy loss, maximize progress
In physical and social systems, energy can be defined as the ability or capacity to work. For over two decades, I have studied social systems in schools, community dialogues, universities, businesses, and nonprofit organizations. During this time, I have observed that energy wastage is a constant – for example, four-person meetings to schedule meetings for seven people, or everyone’s worst nightmare, meetings that could have been accomplished. by e-mail. These little frustrations can even reach a point where good employees start to quit.
After thinking about energy for so long, I began to wonder – as others have done – if applying physics concepts to social systems could help them function better.
Over the past four years, my colleagues and I have developed a theory of negentropy and, using interviews and case studies, have studied how energy is lost or gained in many types of systems. – including in higher education, leadership for e-education, workplace organizations, and e-learning settings.
Our work suggests that when people keep the idea of negentropy in mind and take actions that limit or reverse energy loss, social systems are more effective and efficient. It might even help people achieve larger goals. In other words, yes you should pick up that sock, and yes you should improve your meetings, and this may allow you to see other ways to avoid future energy loss.
5 steps to negentropic success
Based on my colleagues and my research on negentropy, we have proposed five steps to reverse energy loss in everyday life.
1: Find the entropy.
Identify the places where energy is lost in the social systems of your daily life. It’s helpful to think of it as a heat map of the exterior of your home that shows where heat – or energy – is being lost. A poorly sealed window lets heat energy escape. A poorly organized kitchen makes things hard to find. A poorly designed onboarding system for new hires can lead to serious legal problems down the road.
2: Prioritize the losses.
Identify the biggest or most embarrassing losses and the ones that most often catch your eye. For example, maybe that leaky kitchen faucet is driving you crazy. Repairing it might allow you to consider other improvements to your kitchen that would make it more functional.
3: Make a plan.
Identify actions that will reverse the energy losses you have noted, and plan ways to meet the highest priorities first. You can start by fixing the leaking faucet or picking up your socks; If pre-planning meetings are causing a lot of problems for your organization, analyze the problem and figure out how to fix it.
4: Try it and be careful.
Put ideas into action, but stay focused on the energy gains and losses. When trying to implement negentropic ideas, keep track of what works, how much effort is required, and what ideas you come up with for future negentropic actions.
5: Go beyond repair and maintenance.
As you work to reverse energy losses, you may find that sometimes you are sustaining a social system that is not beneficial no matter how well it works. Spending time improving an orientation to introduce new workers to a company culture may not be very helpful if the culture itself needs to change. The best way to apply the idea of negentropy to social systems is not only to improve small processes, but also to get the big picture and see if the status quo itself promotes energy loss. .
Seeing things through a negentropic lens won’t solve a bad relationship or help you enjoy a job you hate – these are complex issues. However, if you start to notice where energy is wasted in your life, it will be easier to prioritize and act in ways that improve the social systems around you.
This article by Alison Carr-Chellman, University of Dayton is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.