I read a paper discussing a concept called negentropy, the opposite of entropy, where the author describes how their research could help people run smoother life. I find this useful and more generally applicable to interpersonal relations as well, hence collaborative contexts which makes up the heartbeat of organisations. The gist is to minimise energy loss and maximise progress, which could be interpreted as somewhat similar to what Agile practices aim to foster.
The paper, which is linked at the end of this post, gives tips on how small actions can lead to more fulfilment in contrast with procrastination for example. In this post, I want to examine the issue from a perceptual point of view then hopefully arrive at the same place.
If we were asked to say something about ourselves, we probably have many good things to say. We like to think that we are rational people, making reasonable decisions, maybe we think that we are in touch with our emotions, that we are emotionally intelligent, that we care about people, that we strive to do the right things. All good stuff, we shouldn’t be too harsh on ourselves, should we? We are pumped with positive energy, maybe we would just like to believe this and that’s a good thing.
Likewise, if business leaders were asked to say something about their organisation, they would have many good things to say. We have positive attitude, we are problem-solvers and are solution orientated, we take good care of our people, we make environmentally conscious decisions, we invest in growth, we make great product that people want, etc, whatever metrics seem adequate or fashionable may be invoked.
This is productive energy land, things generally are looking up in at least perception, and it may mostly carry weight in the context it is cited in, wonderful.
Loss of energy
If pressed a few more times, asked to be honest and truthful, well, depending on the specific individual’s dispositions or job position, an entirely different floodgate might open. On personal level, I can’t even begin to list examples, I would rather leave that out and focus on organisation side of things. From an organisation perspective, a number of complaints might go like this: we dislike meetings, the endless and pointless meetings that achieve nothing, ah the bureaucracy is killing here, the brainless managers, the abusive leaders, the antiquated tooling or way of working, have you seen this workplace, the noise! We are overworked and underpaid, some teammate has unbearable habits, we never gets things done in this place, we have a mountain of work to do and can never tackle it all, etc. Some of most of these characterisations might actually be true for some people or organisations, these could be cause for unhappiness, in turn causing hindrance to individuals fulfilment and success, and transitively causing organisations to flounder rather than flourish. Things don’t get done, products aren’t very good or don’t sell well, and so on and so forth. This is the place where there is loss of energy, at the personal level it makes people miserable, at organisation level it causes loss of productivity and possibly worse.
Empirical evidence tells us that productive and unproductive energies co-exist in the same space and time that we inhabit, whatever our context and realities might be. Sometimes it may be a question of perception, they say that perception is reality and that’s quite true both practically and philosophically. The things that make people unhappy also make them unproductive, be it at personal or interpersonal or organisational level. Unproductive people and organisations typically get less work done, they are unhappier than the others.
Going for energy efficiency
One way of addressing unhappiness at individual and group and further at organisational level, is to systematically go after the causes for energy loss and seek to eliminate them. No need for fancy formula or methodology in order to get started with this journey, and that is a good takeaway from the article. By discussing it from a perception perspective, we make the approach more potent because ultimately that’s where it matters the most. Where there is a non uniformly shared perception of productive energy vs. loss of energy, there is bound to be loss of energy and this shouldn’t be ignored.
Steps towards happier place
The list below is a literal interpretation of the steps outlined in the article, it is remarkably similar to what you would call continual improvement.
- Identify the causes for unhappiness, these may be frictions or deficiencies or simply tasks that need to be accomplished but lay unaddressed.
- Prioritise these causes, the ones with higher impact should come on top. Causes for friction that need to be removed, tasks that need to done. In Agile, this is akin to creating a backlog.
- Create a list of actions for the top priority items, pick the top 5 or top 10, the number doesn’t really matter, what count is that it should be small enough and measurable such that you can quickly assess progress. This may be loosely compared to Agile Planning.
- Put things into action, and indeed measure effectiveness, progress should be visible. Scrub the things that cause loss of energy, get working on tasks. This may be compared with running an Agile Sprint though, in this case, the cadence isn’t emphasised.
- Learn the lessons so far, hopefully you have ticked off some items and have created space for tackling more. Repeat the steps about with an additional set drawn out of the outstanding tasks.
Systematically working to remove frictions, to get tasks done, may indeed be an effective path towards more personal and organisation fulfilment. As people achieve more fulfilment, they arguably get happier, in a virtuous circle manner, happy people tend to achieve more as well. In some sense, Agile advocacy is attempting to promote these ideals, maybe the jargon and the elaborate ceremonies don’t make that clear to see.
The article that inspired this post can be read here: A concept from physics called negentropy could help your life run smoother