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Disorder and order

I have thought a lot about personal and organizational frameworks recently. That began a reflection on the balance between entropy and order, between growth and structure.

Entropy is the second law of thermodynamics in physics. It states that as a system grows, it gains entropy or disorder. Similarly, growing personally or professionally is often messy, with a balance between disorder finally giving way to some order.

In this way, youth is a lot of disorder and aging may be too much order.

Start-up companies are messy, but their lack of organization creates opportunities for innovation and growth. Large, established companies often fail because they gain too much order and stifle creativity and creative people.

People can have similar characteristics. Adults who fail a lot and are persistent through disorder often accomplish much and are perceived as prodigies. But children who are identified early on as prodigies sometimes fail to meet their potential as adults because they are too ordered, afraid to step across their boundaries of comfort.

If increasing disorder is characteristic of any growing system - human, natural or organizational - then how do we balance the disorder and order?

Mathematics tells us that there is a golden ratio that drives what we see as perfect symmetry in nature and in what we perceive as beauty.

The golden ratio is 1.618.

It is the perfect separation of a line so that the ratio of the smaller piece to the larger piece is the same as the larger piece to the whole line.

It is closely related to Fibonacci’s sequence of numbers. If you didn’t study these in math, you probably heard of them in The Da Vinci Code.

Fibonacci’s sequence starts with 0. You the add the next number, 1, to it. From there, the pattern repeats infinitely: 1+1; 1+2; 2+3; 3+5... The resulting sequence is 0,1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21, 34...

Dividing the any number in the sequence by the smaller, previous number approximates the golden ratio.

This ratio is found everywhere in nature - seashells, leaves, hurricanes, and human beauty. For centuries, it has formed the basis for great works of art and architecture.

What does it tell us about personal and organizational growth?

I think it suggests that we should align with nature and embrace disorder more than order - about the golden ratio amount: 1.6 to 1.

The same personally as organizationally.

How do we do this personally? I think it has to do with faith, trust and safety.

Change is disorder into our lives. If we place faith and trust in a bigger frame of our lives, we will have the safety to stay authentic and excited about growth and change. Purpose gives us a frame to welcome some types of disorder.

I think that is why Google found the differentiating factor between their highest performing teams and all others is a higher degree of psychological safety on these teams.

Organizationally, disorder is a feature of growth and advancing knowledge in an organization, while too much structure is often a response to the fear or threat of the business model.

Nassim Taleb wrote about this in Antifragile, where he pointed out that organizations that are very hierarchical and structured are fragile and often fail. I think this is because the natural growing entropy or disorder of the system cannot be contained by a system that is too ordered or structured.

Embracing disorder is key for growth and progress.

How do we balance this natural disorder, entropy or growth, while maintaining enough order to accomplish our goals?

I think that comes from having a shared, defining purpose.

A clear organizational or personal true north makes it easier to thrive in a natural, flexible structure as an organization grows and changes to execute its goals.

Have a structure, but don’t be too structured.

Use the creativity that is abundant in our world and in our lives to create better futures.

I like it that to think about following the golden ratio in West Virginia. Embracing disorder and creating a better future.

Like the beauty in the nature found in our beautiful state - beautiful chaos that lights our way.

Our way to a better future for ourselves, our citizens and state.