The Language of Physics in Everyday Life

To the human mind, words define and create the world around us.  As dramatically profound as the act of sight, we literally use words to language reality into existence, let that soak in for a minute.  Our mind uses words to not just create meaning but also operationalize behavior, navigate the world, and act, it’s in this way that thoughts become things.

In the business world, it’s no different and the descriptive operational language we’ve used for the last two and a half centuries to create our working realities has been anchored to the language of Newtonian physics.  It’s what we’ve known for centuries and we as humans are often remiss in questioning or analyzing things we have operationalized.  We just don’t do it, especially if they appear to be working for us, it’s not our fault, it’s evolutionary and a function of an efficient brain.

With this said Newtonian physics is sorely outdated for us as an operational language.  It’s a language defined with cause and effect, predictability, and certainty, it is a world of distinct wholes and their parts.  A reality drawn from a Newtonian language is that of an observable world, quantifiable determinism, linear thinking, and a controllable slow-moving future with expected outcomes.  Here, mechanistic reductionist thinking drives the day, but it can no longer drive business.  The business world of two hundred and fifty years ago was a different landscape than the one we know and for this reason, it’s time for a new operating language.  One which better frames what we encounter and more closely supports what we set out to accomplish.

Change your language, change your science, change your world

Moving forward from the 17th to the 21st century we discover a new way to interpret the world, Quantum Physics.  The scientific theories propagated by physicists like Planck, Einstein, Bohr, and others in the early 1900s largely revised Newtons with its classical mechanics’ viewpoint and give us a more refined picture of reality. The world of quantum physics is different in part because it is a world rich in relationships and considered at a “sub-atomic” level.  It is a world of discreet events, emergence, complexity, fractals, and relationships between objects.  Not simply concerning itself with deterministic outcomes, predictability, and repetition, quantum physics also considers other phenomena such as chaos theory and dealing with order and change, autonomy and control, structure and flexibility, and butterfly effect, the idea that a small change in one area can have a large impact in anotherLet’s give our minds a closer look at how these along with the language of quantum physics provide a new picture of business.

Emergent and non-emergent systems 

The hallways of most organizations are littered with the debris of alternate successes.

–Woody Powell

We won’t talk much about non-emergent systems because frankly there isn’t much going on, traditional processes from expected places are the order of the day, in this world things don’t just “bubble-up.”   In the real world, however, most organizations are outrageously rich with emergent ideas, and, in most of them these ideas, unfortunately, are never recognized, never validated, and never realized, why? There are different reasons for this as we will discuss but the author of How to Fly a Horse Kevin Ashton says, “sometimes creativity threatens the stability of the status quo, and therefore creative people are stifled either by design or accident.”

What is emergence? In biology, philosophy, and systems theory emergence is described as the appearance of something from nothing.  In reality, however, it is the creation of something new from disparate smaller parts which self-organize or are pulled together to create something new which miraculously seems to suddenly appear.  It can be thought of as the bubbling-up of something more complex from simpler parts. In organizations, this means the creation or appearance of new ideas, processes, or products from unexpected or unplanned places, like the janitor sweeping the shop floor who has the companies next billion-dollar idea.

Such a model as I saw it would go a long way in building a stronger culture for the company, putting its money where its mouth is by showing its members it cares about what they also care about.

Once, at a business function, I suggested the company I was employed by at the time, adopt an “intrapreneurship” small business model, the idea as I envisioned it would be simple.  Like an entrepreneurship innovation model only internal to the organization the company would provide a small amount of seed money, shelter, and protect the employee start-up under its umbrella with small resource contributions or support during its infancy and would share in the profits should the new venture spark and catch fire.  Such a model as I saw it would go a long way in building a stronger culture for the company, putting its money where its mouth is by showing its members it cares about what they also care about.  Adopting a model like this would also help the organization diversify its portfolio.  Should the company’s primary market begin to dry up being diversified in other areas would make the company more drought resistant in tough economic times as happened several years ago when something called sequestration created devastating budget cuts in the market in which I worked.  Despite knowledge of several company employees who worked passionately on their own small businesses in their spare time the idea generated no interest.

What are the chief reasons emergent ideas are ignored, overlooked, or fail to take root in organizations? First, they often come from unrecognized or unendorsed areas. Because emergent ideas can come from any level in an organization or from disparate places they are often not recognized as legitimate or worthwhile. Secondly, as Ashton suggests, they can come from a direction that might upset the hierarchical power or control bases and stress the structural inertia of the organization and therefore bring too much threatening baggage.  Lastly, they can be heralded as too risky in terms of cost, time, or other resources to be worthwhile.

Organizations, like living systems, naturally wind down unless they refresh themselves with new energy.  But for organizations knowing when, how, and why to refresh themselves often seems to be a point of paralysis.  Organizations are dissipative structures maintained by members contributing energy as they ebb and flow between a state of entropy and negative entropy, effectively breathing in and out.  Learning to leverage emergence and the language of quantum physics is a vital part of creating learning networks and it is something an ambidextrous organization intuitively knows how to do and do well. What is the right recipe of behaviors to leverage concepts like emergence and what ingredients would create and promote an emergent rich environment?  For organizations to thrive they must learn to become ambidextrous and in order to do this, they must embrace newer scientific principles like quantum mechanics as their operating language and embrace the power of emergence.

Dr. Zabiegalski is available to talk to your organization or venue about this ground-breaking research or speak informatively and eloquently about organizational culture, leadership, strategy, learning, complexity, neuroscience in business, creativity, mindfulness, talent management, personal success, emotional intelligence, and Action Learning. Contact Eric for a talk or workshop today.


Dr. Eric Zabiegalski
Dr. Eric Zabiegalski
Dr. Eric Zabiegalski is a graduate of George Washington University in Human and Organizational Learning and has been researching and studying leadership, learning, and change for over 20 years. Eric has been on all sides of the leadership fence from leader and manager to employee and servant and has practiced leadership and served leaders in some of the most coveted and challenging places in the world. With an early professional history as a technical expert, Eric has gone from being a technical SME (subject matter expert) to being a people SME and considers the human mind, human behavior, and consciousness to be the next great frontier for discovery. It is in this realm where he combines his technical subject matter expertise with his human sociological and organizational expertise for the betterment of individuals, organizations, their processes, and humanity. With additional interests in emotional intelligence or "EQ", servant leadership and followership, neuroscience, complexity science, creativity and ambidextrous organizations, Eric has been driven to finding the right balance of qualities, efforts and behaviors in order to not only build better high performing and learning teams but also create a better world in which to live, love, and grow. Eric lives on the Western shore of the Chesapeake Bay close to Washington DC with his wife, daughter, and Chow dog Wamu. Eric is the author of The Rise of the Ambidextrous Organization and Leading Ambidextrous Organizations, Part 1,2,3 (E-Books).

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  1. Excellent readDr. Eric. Loved your analysis of biological systems and their application to organizations. I also enjoyed your analysis of why emergent ideas capture far less attention than they merit.

    I have a simple question. You wrote “In reality, however, it is the creation of something new from disparate smaller parts which self-organize or are pulled together to create something new which miraculously seems to suddenly appear. It can be thought of as the bubbling-up of something more complex from simpler parts.
    I refer in particular to “which self-organize or are pulled together”. Are pulled together or pull themselves together?

    Thank you for sharing this excellent post. I tweeted it.