Entropy is a thermodynamics principle that is a measure of the energy that is not available for work during a thermodynamic process. A closed system evolves toward a state of maximum entropy. More broadly, entropy says that things tend to move from orderliness to disorderliness.
Entropy rings equally true when translated to a cultural context. Left to themselves, things tend to move from order to disorder. If you don’t believe me, just look in your car’s back seat, your office, your refrigerator, your garage, or your nearest teenager’s bedroom. Entropy is something that we combat daily . . . or we fail to combat it and thus succumb to it.
When we look at organizational development dynamics, we often see what I like to call creeping corporate entropy. That is when entropy is affecting groups of people, organizations, or companies. What makes creeping corporate entropy so much more invasive and persistent is the simple fact that you literally have more moving parts (called people). The pervasiveness, individuality, unpredictability, and volatility of those parts render the organization vulnerable to being less effective at combatting entropy.
One of the many negative technological effects of creeping corporate entropy is that the entire organization will experience a degradation of its technical capabilities. Garrett M. Graff writing for Bloomberg Businessweek gives us a prime example of this from the nation’s presidency (“Trump Force One” 3/20/17–3/26/17, pp. 48–53):
“On [September 11, 2001], aboard Air Force One, President George W. Bush was repeatedly frustrated by antiquated communications systems. At times he was less informed than the average CNN viewer, as the plane then had no access to satellite TV. Afterward, his administration undertook a wide-ranging effort to upgrade the president’s in-flight capabilities.” (p. 51)
That sad, surprising, and slightly humorous example reminds us that if we want our people and our organizations to be on the cutting edge, then creeping corporate entropy is something we can never ignore . . . on any level. The default setting of creeping corporate entropy is to win.
We have work to do.