"Complex systems throughout Nature (including all social systems and organisations) display structures and functions that are built and maintained...by optimal energies flowing through them."Eric J. Chaisson
Harvard-Smothsonian Centre for Astrophysics, Harvard University, Cambridge, USA
Eric Chaisson, brilliant cosmologist, has opened the door for leaders to leap into the future world of AI, robotics and the very real potential of the great singularity. (When machines become more intelligent than us.) Leaving behind at the same time the now hopelessly inadequate and even destructive management theories and practices of a previous century.
DEFINING THE UNIVERSE (AND ORGANISATIONS) AS AN ENERGY FLOW
Chaisson defines the universe simply and beautifully.
"The universe can be defined as the flow of energy from radiation to matter."
All life on earth therefore is the evolutionary product of energy flowing from our sun. And this includes the flow of energy from humans to their organisations.
THE ENERGY/COMPLEXITY RATIO AND OUR CULTURAL EVOLUTION
"And here is the key insight. Higher energy, more intelligent organisations require and consume more energy than low energy systems. This is a scientific fact and not a new age opinion."
Chaisson's extensive work provides us with further critical information linking energy and complexity in both the universe and our culture. He has shown that a typical hunter-gatherer would need 4000 calories of energy per day (food, fuel etc) whereas a technologist in a developed country now needs 265,000 calories of energy per day. This represents a 6000% increase in per person energy demand.
"The universe can be best described as the flow of energy from radiation to matter. Eric Chaisson."
(It is of interest that our use of computers, cell phones, the internet and social media, and all data centres sitting in the 'cloud' already consume 4% of our daily global energy consumption - 90% of it from coal, oil and gas.)
Critical understanding from this is that the evolution of complexity - biological and cultural - requires additional energy.
The simple message to leaders and their organisations is that energy really matters. Higher energy organisations are more complex and more intelligent than lower energy organisations.
And here is the key insight. Higher energy, more intelligent organisations require and consume more energy than low energy organisations. This is a scientific fact and not a new age opinion.
"Organisations can be best described as the flow of energy radiating from leaders to employees and customers."
The diagram below, based directly on the work of Chaisson, clearly shows the very important correlation between complexity and energy consumption and our cultural evolution.
AUTHORITARIAN SYSTEMS DESTROY INTELLIGENCE AND COMPLEXITY
Of interest is the extent to which our history has been punctuated by authoritarian systems from religions and empires to the modern corporation where the default has always been the structure of hierarchies and rituals. The purpose being to control people and maintain power.
However there is a price to pay for power and control. It reduces complexity, intelligence and creativity, and hence hinders our intellectual and cultural evolution.
Effectively our cultural evolution is a continuous battle between the totalitarians on the one hand and the creative and rebellious mavericks on the other - Jobs, Musk, Joan of Ark, Anaximander and Socrates for example.
"The evolution of cultural complexity is a direct function of energy consumption. The greater the complexity, the greater the amount of energy required."
Without these free thinking game changers we would still be swinging from the trees and blaming Zeus for everything under the sun!
LESSONS FOR LEADERS
The following diagram, based on the detailed work of Chaisson, shows us the importance of applying scientific data to our understanding of the evolution of society and organisations.
"Free markets are more complex than totalitarian systems and require greater energy and intelligence."
For example authoritarianism emerged thousands of years ago and it was only seriously challenged with the invention of the steam engine and the emergence of the industrial revolution together with the concept of libertarianism and freedom of the individual.
It is no coincidence that this platform unleashed a miraculous flood of technology and innovation, all of which required a massive increase in energy consumption to support the emergent revolution of complexity and intelligence.
"The greatest enemy of cultural evolution is authoritarian thinking, driven by hierarchy and rituals. The price of control is always increased stupidity."
For the past two centuries democracy and free markets have spread like wildfire. As systems they are more complex and closer to the edge of chaos than traditional totalitarian systems. At the same time they are smarter, more complex and require more energy.
HOW ENERGY AND COMPLEXITY DRIVE OUR CULTURAL EVOLUTION
If the pandemic did nothing else, it exposed the extent to which our leadership and organisational theories were seriously outdated and no longer fit for purpose.
The new harsh reality confirmed that organisations really were imaginary objects with no physical boundaries, bounded not by buildings and things, but rather animal spirits, feelings and intellectual ideas and beliefs. The ancient dogma of visions, missions, values and competencies took a serious nosedive in organisations that now sat largely in the cloud.
A new challenge emerged. What is an organisation and what is leadership in this new, uncertain and fast evolving world?
The future is not what it used to be. In this world of increasing uncertainty we can expect an increasing attack on freedom, free thinking, free markets and democracy in general. Populists will continue to emerge to offer conspiracy laced simple solutions where they will offer us certainty and comfort provided we sell them our souls.
Here are my Five Immutable Laws of Energy, Complexity and Cultural Evolution. They provide courageous and high energy leaders with a foundation for change.
This includes a new way of thinking and a revolutionary way of acting. They are based purely on scientific principles and offer a new leadership pathway to success in the decade ahead.
Leaders need to acquire two new essential skills in the brave new world of cloud based and invisible organisations.
The first is to know how to measure energy and complexity in human systems. As we now know that this is the foundation for all cultural and organisational evolution, intelligence and success.
(We use a combination of our own customised Organisation Energy and DNA assessment tool, and the GCIndex to identify current energy levels, strengths and potential blind spots.)
The point is simple. If you don't know how to measure energy, you cannot manage it. You remain groping in the dark.
Knowing how to generate new energy will become the most important new leadership skill in the days ahead.
This will require a new and deep knowledge of complex human systems, energy in general and human energy in particular, combined with new scientific knowledge and skill to fundamentally change the thinking and behaviour of individuals, teams and organisations.
It is of interest that a century ago, William James the father of American psychology, declared that 99% of all our thinking and behaviour is governed by habitual actions, both conscious and unconscious. A hundred years later and science is proving him correct.
The future of leadership and organisations will evolve, not any more in an age of linear mumbo jumbo, but in a beautiful new world of scientific exploration and discovery.
Practical Applications of Cosmology to Human Society.
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Harvard University, Cambridge, USA