In 1977, Ilya Prigogine won a Nobel Prize for his discovery of the Law of Dissipative Structures. This law basically showed us what happens to systems that resist change in a changing environment. Sound like any businesses, leaders or managers you know?
When a system resists change, it becomes more complex and therefore requires more energy to stay the same. However, the system can only dissipate the same amount of energy as before resisting change and therefore becomes stressed. If systems continue to resist change, the stresses build until the system goes into a state Prigogine called “reorder”—a flight into chaos only to, over time, reorder into a completely different system. Note, in reorder the new system is not a bigger version of the original system. It’s completely different. Once a system goes into reorder, nothing can stop it.
In the workplace, it turns out that stresses in systems are passed on to the people who must work in those systems as negative emotional energy. In a business that is resisting change in our rapidly changing business environment, we see two basic manifestations; 1. Stressed systems and 2. Stressed people. This is both the problem and the opportunity.
The amount of change possible in systems is proportional to the stresses on those systems. The amount of change that takes place in people (expanding mindsets and skill sets) is proportional to the emotional content of the experience. No emotion—no change!
We can use the stresses built up in legacy systems and the stresses passed on to people as a catalyst for deep and rapid change. If we are to make Conscious Capitalism sustainable, we must do both the systems work and expand the mindsets of the people. As Einstein reminds us, “We can’t solve our problems with the same level of consciousness used to create them.” The Law of Dissipative Structures is, I believe, a universal principle that we advocates of Conscious Capitalism may apply to speed and deepen the systems and paradigm shifts necessary to make Conscious Capitalism sustainable.