Negentropic: The 2d Law of Thermodynamics and Sustaining Improvement Efforts

ASQ has “graduated” me to the status of a “Voices of Influence Alumni” blogger.  Hopefully my advanced studies in Blogology have helped me, and those reading this blog 🙂

Recently, in his monthly “View From the Q,” ASQ Executive Paul Borawski raised a great question about how organizations can sustain their quality and organizational improvement efforts over time.  Paul cited the example of Corning, and you can read his post here:

The issue of sustaining and even growing success over time, points to a unique characteristic of human systems.  In both mechanical and many natural systems, if the system is closed, then over time the system will “wind down” and eventually stop.  Think of a classic grandfather clock, for example.  Unless you keep winding it periodically, the clock will stop.  This principle in science is called ENTROPY, and is known as The Second Law of Thermodynamics.  The tendency of a system, absent any new input of energy, to dissipate and stop over time.

But human dynamic systems like communities and organizations seem to defy the Second Law.  Not only do we keep going in our evolving social endeavors, we tend over time to adapt and evolve to higher levels of complexity and order.  We have NEGATIVE ENTROPY, or in other words, complex human dynamic systems are NEGENTROPIC (and note that this is one time being “negative” is actually POSITIVE!).

How do we do it?  Well… physical systems need to be open, and keep receiving new energy to stay in gear.  Where’s the energy to keep human systems – like improvement initiatives – sustained and “negentropic” over time?  Maybe you have already figured it out…  our COMMUNICATED IDEAS are the “energy” that keeps feeding our systems.  The collision of ideas old and new can spark the innovation that will help us leap to a new level of performance.  Words of encouragement and support can fuel our ongoing motivation and even perseverance in tough times.

The path to sustained excellence and improvement is clear enough, even if it is at times very challenging.  I encourage organizations to follow this four-dimensional approach:


  1. COMMITMENT: This has to be clear to everyone.  If some are committed, but others, through words or actions, give up, your improvement efforts will suffer.
  2. CONNECTIONS: The energy that will sustain your improvement efforts has to be able to flow throughout your organization.  As a change leader, make sure that everyone is connected.  Enable connections without fear.
  3. COMMUNICATION:  Remember, this is the energy that enables growth and sustained success.  If it isn’t coming in positive ways from you, why would it flow from others? Enable both the connections and the communications among your people to be open and without fear.
  4. COURAGE:  It is not always going to be easy to lead and sustain change and improvement.  Noted Harvard Professor of leadership, Ron Heifetz, teaches that “leadership is dangerous.”  Sometimes the idea you send out will not be what some people agree with, or want to do.  Sometimes some people will resist, or even actively work to undermine or sabotage your efforts.  They are adding ideas and energy to the system, just as you are.  But colliding ideas, like other kinds of collision, don’t always end up creating something bigger and better.  In the classic words of the Cowardly lion from the Wizard of Oz, “What makes the Hottentot so hot? What’ve they got that I ain’t got? COURAGE!


This entry was posted in Adaptive Capacity, ASQ, Change, Complexity, Continuous Process Improvement, Innovation, Leadership, Quality. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Negentropic: The 2d Law of Thermodynamics and Sustaining Improvement Efforts

  1. haykantonyan says:

    Great post; thank you, Bruce. I absolutely agree with ideas/points above.

  2. haykantonyan says:

    Reblogged this on TANGENT Arc and commented:
    Excellent post on negentropy, 2nd law of thermodynamics and living systems and implications for sustainable improvement, by Complexified.

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