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Posted by Philip on 17 January 2012, 8:18 pm in , , , ,

Sand castles, sand piles and social change

I love the idea of entropy, explained eloquently by the BBC's Dr Brian Cox.  According to Wikipedia, "In statistical mechanics, entropy is a measure of the number of ways in which a system may be arranged, often taken to be a measure of "disorder" (the higher the entropy, the higher the disorder)." 

Watch this video and then let's consider entropy from a social change perspective.

It doesn't take much awareness to notice that social structures and systems are becoming more disordered. Could we be merely witnessing natural processes of entropy occuring in the context of social evolution and the arrow of time? Capitalism, justice, education, traditions, organisational culture etc are the sand castles. Recessions, civil disobedience, failing schools and conflict are entropy, returning human-made ideas of control and order to the natural state of disorder and chaos.

Entropy, from a human standpoint, could be considered as an indicator of resilience in human beings and endeavours. Individuals, systems and structures that can withstand high levels of disorder, uncertainty, change and chaos (entropy) are far more likely to thrive. However, the requirement for order and rigidity that we see in communities and society are literally impossible. They will erode eventually. Right now we are witnessing our treasured sand castles being blown quite noticably into sand piles — and we don't like it.

When I saw this clip I reflected that I've always had difficulty defining myself, who I am, what I do, sometimes even what I think. Similarly, my work, my company and Diversityworks Trust have all changed over time, are difficult to brand but, nonetheless, have proved resilient and relevant. In all respects my world is a collection of sand piles, not sand castles.

So, how entropic are you? Are you a sand castle or a sand pile? Does your organisation need to protect itself from the winds of change, or can it withstand being whitled by the breeze of disorder, changing shape but remaining a distinctively recognisable pile of sand? Or are you desperately trying to maintain your form, expecting that the laws of physics will improbably blow new grains of sand into exactly the same spots?

I think becoming more aware of diversity as a process of decay, and creativity as a more flexible glue than structure, are key to understanding how society needs to be organised in the future — a highly entropic future of piles, not castles.

Next time you find yourself wishing things were the same, simpler, or more defined, consider instead the following: Do I/we need to increase my/our entropy?