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Systems, Order, Entropy, and Chaos: Why it's So Hard to Keep Things Running Smoothly

(June 2009) posted on Mon Jun 01, 2009

The basic laws of the universe are fighting against your efforts to apply systems and order to your business.

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By Mark A. Coudray

Almost every company has made workforce adjustments in the wake of the recent contraction in the economy. This usually means fewer employees and doing more with less. Such is the case with my own company, and I find myself back in production more often than not. Frankly, I’m surprised by what I’ve found.

Having been in business for 35 years, I’ve overcome most of the randomness and chaos of the typical screen-printing environment—or at least that’s what I thought. For years I’ve worked on developing ordered systems optimized for maximum output and minimum costs. That’s what you’re supposed to be doing as a business owner. When you’re in the trenches everyday, it’s easy to experience the frustration of not getting everything done that’s on the schedule. Random, chaotic events pop up to interfere with and block your efforts. By working with controls and standard operating procedures (SOPs) the effort is to eliminate or at least minimize those random events.

Once you’ve established all of the SOPs, the next task is implementation and training of your employees to make them work. Finally, with training and systems in place, it’s up to the managers to actually manage the system to ensure maximum productivity and output. Targeted profit and a high percentage of machine utilization are evidence of successful implementation of SOPs. Things like minimum set-up times and limited machine adjustments are typical of the events being controlled. All of this is good and would appear to be pretty obvious.

But this is where things begin to go wrong. Systematic order is a transient or unstable state. In physics there’s a condition called entropy—the natural condition, usually applied to heat or thermodynamics, where the tendency is toward randomness or equilibrium. Randomness is defined here as the state under which no one body influences another. Entropy in an information system is the natural tendency to move from order to disorder. The ultimate result is chaos.


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