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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.


By Mark A. Coudray

We’re talking about disruption at this point. When any organization downsizes in relation to the workload or demand, the internal systems are torn apart. This is the point at which we accelerate the natural tendency toward chaos. The seriousness of the situation is masked by the obvious nature of having to do more with less. It’s easy to blame less than optimum output on the fact we no longer have Bob in shipping or José to handle the teardown and reclaiming of our screens. Our internal contraction results in new job responsibilities for those left doing the work.

It’s most often the case where the newest hires are the first to go—the logic being they are the least experienced and most expendable. Who remains are the senior or veteran workers. They are the most knowledgeable and adaptable. They are the employees who can handle multiple tasks with the skills necessary to survive. But what happens when management makes the decision to cut the more expensive workers who appear to be doing less than their fair share?

As the business has expanded, the more experienced workers are doing less and less of the physical work and are acting more to assure the systems in their areas are working to their maximum potential. They’re attuned to this process. They may not even be aware of how their jobs have changed over time. With disruption of the existing systems, owners and managers face more than just an increase in workload.

The changing nature of how things get done is a natural evolutionary process. The danger of this kind of evolution is that it’s often empirical. This means change evolves based on observed events. A new ink system doesn’t print like the old one. Setups are adjusted to compensate. Meshes and tensions may be changed. These actions often happen on the fly and are communicated only to the people who are directly affected by the events.

This is only one example. We do this over and over again everyday, over long periods of time. What’s really going on here is our continual battle to maintain order against the natural events leading to chaos. We’re not even aware of it. We just do it. Then the major event occurs that fundamentally upsets whatever order we’ve been careful enough to preserve. Our current economy is such an event.

 

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