Insights from Leading Edge Science

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Perception shapes reality.

This is more than a New Age catch phrase or self-help platitude. It’s confirmed by quantum mechanics – the study of the atomic world. It’s also verified through everyday experience ranging from the regular labeling of children in school to research on the placebo effect including sugar pills, fake surgery and the power of words and beliefs to affect our health, attitude and life expectancy.

Small things DO matter.

For centuries, scientists ignored the small stuff, figuring that little puffs of wind in weather (for example) canceled each other out. Not true. Chaos theory has proven that, under the right initial conditions, small actions can have huge consequences, such as the fluttering of a butterfly’s wings over a field in Peru causing a typhoon in Japan. By the same principle, significant impact can be made by anyone at any level in an organization – just as each individual can impact the world. Anyone can choose to create and lead change at any moment.

How do we find order in chaos?

Chaos and complexity theories show how we can make sense of and better navigate the fast-paced, often confusing world in which we live. Three methods involve pattern identification:

  1. At different levels of scale (as in an organization.)
  2. Over multiple iterations (as in the accumulated experience of a person’s lifetime.)
  3. Across different disciplines.

A fourth way – documented by research into how complex systems adapt and evolve – is through metaphor and meaning. What’s new here is that science is showing the importance of the meanings and interpretations we assign to events that touch our lives and shape our world.

The value of cooperation, diversity and bottoms-up leadership.

Research from the merging science of complexity shows that cooperation, diversity and bottoms-up leadership often result in far better decisions, faster adaptation and more robust (healthy, resilient) solutions. As a result, these approaches often are more effective in today’s complex world than competition, conformity, top-down command/control and traditional management goals of optimization and equilibrium.

The Emerging Metapattern: Relationship of the Seen and Unseen.

We can measure things as small as 1 billionth of a meter. Still, scientists know there’s lively soup of activity going on even smaller than that. They just haven’t figured out how to observe it yet. At the largest scale, astronomers have realized that 90% of all matter is invisible. These relatively new discoveries echo leading-edge thinking in physics, biology and chemistry over the past 30 years which says: There is an invisible realm that gives rise to the visible world we see around us.

This “metapattern” provides a new framework in which to talk about the “invisible” aspects of organizational life – such as corporate culture, vision, values, credibility, integrity, trust and commitment – that give rise to visible results organizations need in order to survive and prosper: Loyal clients, customers, employees and investors; healthy sales, profits and return on assets, equity and investment. This perspective also has application to interpersonal relationships and to the quest for inner peace, balance, wisdom and compassion that is the core of most of the world’s spiritual traditions.

The Emerging Universal Metaphor: Resonance, Harmony

String theory offers an explanation for what’s going on at the subatomic level that we can’t see yet – the scale smaller than 1 billionth of a meter. Based on what they’ve observed so far, string theorists are guessing that the fundamental building blocks of all matter and energy are tiny strings that are constantly vibrating and interacting at different levels of harmony and resonance. String theory is also a leading candidate to resolve the inconsistencies between quantum theory and Einstein’s theory of relativity, which don’t match up. The irreconcilable differences between these two theories form one of the biggest clues that we humans don’t have everything figured out yet.

The metaphor of resonance and harmony has powerful applications to group behavior. It gives a meaningful context in which to talk about harmony (cooperation, commitment and enthusiasm) and dissonance (negativity, conflict and resistance.) It shows how ideas can be an organizing force; how communications can sustain resonance by putting energy into a system faster than it is taken out; and how themes, harmonies and rhythms can be adapted and transposed for different cultures, functions, and purposes, yet continue to be harmonious parts of the whole.

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