By Dave Crisp
Galileo was still being persecuted for promoting the idea that the sun was the center of the universe 100 years after Copernicus first suggested it. That’s how difficult it is to change embedded ideas.
Prior to that, all sorts of incredibly complicated math for the time was invented to try to describe the observed movements of planets and stars without this key idea at the core. Recognizing the Earth revolved around the sun simplified things and made lots of that obsolete with this single insight. It solidified the Earth being round and many more practical applications of theory.
Now physicists have gone beyond Einstein and Heisenberg’s early theories about how the particles that make up matter work. For those disposed to strain their thinking there’s a good attempt at a layman’s description in Quanta magazine on line.
It goes like this: Scientists studying the tiniest building blocks of matter have discovered zillions of ways they interact and produce other tiny particles, some that exist in the real world, some just theoretical and some we need to actually find to prove the theories, like the recent confirmation of the Higgs Boson.
This vastly simplifies a 60-year old method of predicting these zillions of particle interactions, replacing Feynman diagrams, described as: “The number of Feynman diagrams is so explosively large that even computations of really simple processes weren’t done until the age of computers.”
Two scientists, by 1986, came up with a formula “that managed to simplify the 2-gluon to 4-gluon amplitude calculation from several billion terms to a nine page long formula, which a 1980s supercomputer could handle.”
Now two more scientists have created a relatively simple sort of diagram called “the amplituhedron (that) looks like an intricate, multifaceted jewel in higher dimensions.”
Its effect should be very much like Copernicus’ simple diagram of Earth revolving around the Sun — totally changing all that mathematical analysis to something far more useful and closer to real.
Leadership revolves around the interactions of seven billion individuals on this planet, each interacting with some of the others many times every day in an average lifetime of, say, 70 years times 365 days — in short, zillions of interactions. We can’t know for certain what the outcomes of each interaction will be. But they can be described by probabilities.
If you punch someone in the mouth, there’s a probability you will get punched back and a different probability you won’t and a probability the person will pull a weapon and the result will be even worse — probabilities just like those describing the interactions of all these particles that make up matter. Probabilities that surely add up to more than 100 per cent (you might get punched, and also a weapon is pulled, is an added variation) just like these scientists now believe about particle formation. The overall result is the world we see around us, both in terms of matter and in terms of behavior. By understanding at various levels about the probabilities we can better predict outcomes and patterns and find new ways to get results.
With behavior, unlike particles of matter, we haven’t tried to translate detailed analysis into a nine-page math formula. Instead we keep trying to jump to the ultimate diagram, with authors writing more than 60,000 books on the subject before we start counting articles and research studies. Everyone has a pet model, just as I do with my five keys to effective leadership.
Human imagination is amazing. After years of mathematicians contributing ideas and formulae, these two knowledgeable, expert scientists used all that and “guessed a simple one-term expression” for it that now seems to be correct in simplifying all they know and replacing the billions of terms and approximated nine-page formula.
Of course, the other side of this is that scientists working on this stuff believe that with all the resources of thousands of people (CERN is a collaboration of 22 countries and scientists from many more), facilities like the amazing accelerators and colliders including the one in the 27 kilometer underground tunnel in Europe, together forming the world’s most complicated machine, we still haven’t learned more than a small percentage of the total possible about this stuff. Think what will be possible in future.
So it is with leadership, we have a simple model from ancient times — give orders, expect obedience and the team with the most well-disciplined members probably gets the best result. Variations range from bully to enlightened despot. In the stock market you can bet on the probability of which CEO has the best disciplined team.
Or we have a newer, “complex” model — greater probabilities of success if employees are engaged and what it takes to create that condition — a sense of both challenge and support at every level such as with Toyota. This comes down to presenting a tough task each person takes on personally plus some sense of security. They can make mistakes without being fired or laid off so they can innovate at unprecedented rates. The people who lead have to develop a paradoxical ability to both challenge and support, guide but provide freedom... probably best called "coaching" leadership style, in place of the age-old, pre-Copernicus, pre-Einstein, pre-CERN, pre-caveman model.
If we believe a nuclear bomb is more powerful than conventional weapons, we need to start believing the engagement model of leadership is more powerful than the old, easy, "tell them what to do" model.
Is it more complex for leaders to put into practice? Do we need to select leaders on their ability to learn to do this? Will we not promote the ones who don’t?
When we reach the stage where we say, “Duh, everyone knows that,” we’ll have evolved our knowledge of leadership to the level of knowing the Earth is round and revolves around the sun and toward understanding the quantum energy released by the newer approach. Imagine what else may be possible. Even so there are those who want to believe the world is flat (and not just in Thomas Friedman’s sense).
The model has been guessed, from observed facts in many research projects. As in all complexity solutions, it applies to every level of leadership in an organization. We are sitting on the first key answer. Let’s not wait 100 years or more for this to percolate through management. Engage.
Dave Crisp is a Toronto-based writer and thought leader for Strategic Capability Network with a wealth of experience, including 14 years leading HR at Hudson Bay Co. where he took the 70,000-employee retailer to “best company to work for” status. For more information, visit www.balance-and-results.com.