You've long been told, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” But it isn't true. When a person expresses love, where is the necessary “equal and opposite reaction” then? Newton's oft-quoted third law of motion is usually true in physics, but it rarely is in business. Businesspeople who use the principles of Newtonian physics as a paradigm in business are always the easiest to spot. Living in Newton's tiny little box of cause-and-effect, they believe:
1. Challenges arrive sequentially.
2. Information is gathered.
3. Wise heads are consulted.
4. A plan is formed.
5. Contingencies are pondered and provided for.
6. Ducks are lined up.
7. The big guns are pulled out.
And finally a solution is executed.
“But in the real world, it is not reason-based logic a corporate manager is dealing with, it is particle logic. All the elements that weigh on any decision have been reduced to the subatomic level, and they exist in a constant swirl. Perhaps the ducks are lined up in a row. Perhaps they are not. In the real world, billions of variables interact continuously. If you study all the information available to you that might help illuminate a single decision, you will go blind from reading. If you ponder all the contingencies that bear on a single decision, you will go mad from planning. In the real world, challenges might arrive sequentially, but the space between the sequences is too thin to discern; too infinitely small to be meaningful. If you are going to succeed in this real world, you cannot act on the predicted fulfillment of some causal chain. The path coefficients that would fulfill the prediction are subject to too many random variations and mutations. If you are going to succeed in chaos, you must connect with the chaos. You must act in concert with chaos.” – The 500 Year Delta, p. 18
Isaac Newton originally published his “equal but opposite” theory in his 1687 book, Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica. Two hundred and seventy-four years later Edward Lorenz was using a computer when he discovered chaos and Benoit Mandelbrot used another to help him map it. Businesspeople who get in step with chaos and the resulting Complexity Theory that springs from it are much more likely to make intelligent decisions than those who misapply Newton's third law. Speaking to the London School of Economics on February 13, 1997, Michael Lissack of Henley Management College said, “The use of Complexity Theory metaphors is changing the way managers think about the problems they face. Instead of competing in a game or a war, they are trying to find their way on an ever changing, ever turbulent landscape. Such a conception of their organizations' basic task can, in turn, change the day-to-day decisions made by management.”
But Lissack wasn't the first to recognize the human factor in chaotic equations. Solomon demonstrated a profound understanding of chaos in Ecclesiastes 11 when he gave us the following advertising and marketing advice: “He who watches the wind will not sow and he who looks at the clouds will not reap. Sow your seed in the morning and do not be idle in the evening, for you do not know whether morning or evening sowing will succeed, or whether both of them alike will be good.”
Had Solomon been from Texas, I believe he'd have phrased it this way: “Don't get trapped in analysis paralysis. Sow the seed, Stupid.”
But maybe I'm wrong.
Roy H. Williams