“In my kingdom,” as the Red Queen tells Alice in Wonderland, “you have to run as fast as you can just to stay in the same place.”
The Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland represents Mother Nature.
Her red colour is an allusion to the colour of blood, a symbolic ode to the brutal rawness of nature and its indiscriminate laws.
One of the most overlooked natural laws that affects leaders and individuals in all spheres of life, is the second law of thermodynamics or the law of entropy as it is more commonly known.
The law of entropy (from the Greek “εντροπία” basically referring to “transformation”) roughly posits that energy, the fundamental building block of the entire cosmos, tends to spread, decay and degenerate.
For this reason all systems of structure tend to degenerate and wither into chaos and disorder by default.
Think of a raw egg accidentally dropped on the floor and broken. Its natural tendency is not to re-assemble into its shell and re-constitute itself back into the egg form; on the contrary, it will continue spreading, oozing and disintegrating on the floor.
Or consider an ice-cream held by a child on a hot summer day. No doubt it will melt and ultimately ooze and drop on the floor unless it is consumed promptly.
Or imagine a children’s playroom left unattended for a week without someone tending to it every day after play. The place will gradually become a disordered mess; toys will not automatically move back into their proper position on the shelves by themselves.
The passage of time always brings with it the decaying and withering impact of entropy. The law applies literally everywhere and on everything.
1. Cognitive entropy – refers to the gradual decline of cognitive abilities (especially memory and computational capacity) due to aging and the onset of various mental disorders.
2. Health related entropy – relevant to point 1 above, this refers to the general tendency of our health and physical conditions to degenerate due to lack of proper exercise, malnutrition or by virtue of our stress levels not being maintained at healthy levels.
3. Skill related entropy – refers to our skills withering due to our abandoning or neglecting them inevitably affecting our confidence to use them in the longer term.
For example the less we play a musical instrument, the more rusty and less confident we become in playing same.
Similarly the less we engage in difficult conversations, the more our confidence and ability to engage in conflict deteriorates and withers; the more our confidence withers, the less willing we are to engage in difficult conversations. A vicious circle.
The less we engage in talks and dialogue in general, the less competent we are in formulating arguments that are meaningful, convincing and relatable.
4. Relational entropy – refers to the withering of relationships with family members, spouses, children, partners, neighbours, friends, colleagues, managers, subordinates and clients when we stop nurturing our relationships with them.
Relationships left without attention do not remain stable; they wither and atrophy.
No wonder how kids become estranged from workaholic parents who rarely spend quality time with them.
Or how the quality of collaboration in a company deteriorates due to poor relationships between team members with the inevitable outcome of customer service suffering at the end.
5. Organisational entropy – refers to the gradual disintegration and failure of organisational systems and processes where leaders and employees lose their focus, motivation and vision and where complacency and inertia are often causes that lead them into the paths of failure and bankruptcy.
For example, if vital procedures in an organisation are not followed, the organisation is likely to descend into disorder.
Similarly, if the company stops investing in training and development of their employees, the lack of growth will translate in an erosion of confidence and an increase of anxiety due to absence of knowledge in the domains concerned.
Finally, employees’ engagement and motivation levels drop where proper focus and leadership ability are lacking; the result being scattered attention, social loafing and low productivity by employees in organisations that simply end up devoting their attention, care and focus elsewhere.
The law of entropy simply provides that the things we do not actively and positively pursue to preserve and keep in place will disintegrate and fall into atrophy by default .
To keep things in shape, we need to keep practising, polishing and updating them always.
The antidote to the withering and decaying impact of entropy is actively pursued growth through increased resistance and anti-fragility.
Resistance here does not refer to us raising our own resistance to life; on the contrary, the key is to raise life’s resistance to us.
To achieve this, we are advised to increase the degree of challenge we voluntarily bring into a situation so as to push ourselves, counter entropy and continue to positively grow.
Resistance in this sense can take many forms including:
- To counter muscular entropy and the deterioration of physical health we can hit the gym and start doing some weight lifting.
- To counter relational entropy we can reach out to those whose love, connection and companionship matter to us so as to nurture our relationships with them.
- To counter cognitive entropy we should pursue cognitively stimulating activities (reading, teaching, leading, project handling, solving puzzles etc)
- To counter skill related entropy we should up our game and increase the level of challenge in the fields of interest and skill we wish to maintain an edge and improve.
- To counter organisational entropy, leadership needs to redefine and recommunicate the values, vision and mission of the organisation and proceed to align goals, KPIS, targets and behaviours of all employees and managers with those values and mission.
It is true that as per the Red Queen, “in our kingdom (i.e the world) we have to run as fast as we can just to stay in the same place.”
And perhaps this parable from wonderland can serve as our definite call to adventure, our invitation to overcome our fear of failure and our proclivity to procrastinate.
A call that promises a journey paved with meaningful growth, wonderful exploration and deep fulfilment.