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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

Systems and order require effort and energy on our part to establish and maintain. This is no surprise. Most of us have been involved in the creation of systems within our own businesses. Some are complex and integrated, developed over long periods of time, and require ongoing monitoring and maintenance to keep them efficient. The amount of energy necessary to implement a system depends on how much inertia (resistance to change) exists within the organization. If you’re trying to implement a new technology, this can be a huge problem.

But let’s concentrate on the everyday types of systems common to virtually every business. These are the workflows and internal procedures that we use each day to get our work done. The more we tend toward maximum efficiency, the more difficult it is to maintain ongoing order within the system.

What I’m getting at here is how hard it is to maintain an optimum state within any organization. When a system is implemented, refined, and optimized, we’re positioned for two things. The first is maximum profitability and the second is increasing growth. Both are at the heart of any capitalistic model. Without growth we stagnate. Growth is the basis for expansion and the creation of greater profits. In light of the recent financial debacles, there are serious questions about whether growth is real or fabricated in the form of the now famous Ponzi scheme, but let’s leave that for another discussion. Let’s assume we’re talking about real growth for which we can be responsible.

Our internal systems evolve over time. As our businesses grow, our systems change and adapt. As we hire more new employees and managers to handle the greater workload, we make adjustments to the systems to compensate for new job responsibilities and capabilities. All of this is fine and good as long as we’re expanding. What happens when it all comes to a screeching halt and we go from expansion to stagnation to contraction? This is where it gets very ugly fast.


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