Yes, you read that correctly. We’re beginning this blog with a small science lesson. Hey, it’s Metro: expect the unexpected. So here goes …
From a business perspective, we’re always looking for new tools that help us to manage more effectively. Sometimes, this can be accomplished by simply looking at an organization or a situation from a different point of view. Recently, we had the novel idea to assess the management of our business by applying the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. We thought it helped us; maybe you can use it too (at your job, in your family, your life … who knows?).
The science part:
Entropy (or the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics) is a mathematically defined law of physics that accounts for the “flow” of energy through a thermodynamic process (I know … What? What?). Put in laymen’s terms, however, it’s pretty simple. Entropy is a cup of hot coffee getting cold: the energy that is concentrated in the hot cup, flows “out” until the cup of coffee reaches room temperature.
In science, the Law of Entropy is actually used in all sorts of applications. Ultimately (and simply), it is a law that states the following: “Order” naturally moves to disorder. To get things back in “order,” you need to put energy “in” to the system.
In the coffee cup example, the hot cup cools down. To get it hot again, you need to “heat” it (put energy into it). But there are more examples than a coffee cup. In any system, order naturally moves to disorder. A ball at the top of a hill naturally rolls down; you have to use energy to get it back to the top. You clean your house, but it gets messy again; you have to use energy to get it clean.
The business part:
Okay, you say, cute. But how does this help the car wash?
Well, by thinking about our business with this “Law” in mind, here’s what we came up with.
(1) No matter how much effort and money we spend, our business will never be perfect. The Law tells us that our business is ALWAYS moving towards disorder. Equipment is always going to wear down, break; employees are always going to forget what was discussed in the last meeting; and no matter how many signs we hang, customers are going to go the wrong way or forget they have their keys in their pockets.
It is what it is. And it’s not just the car wash. It’s any business, really; or it’s our family, or our marriage. We need to face facts: things are moving from order to disorder, whether we like it or not.
From a business perspective, we find this really helpful. It tells us that as soon as we fix our equipment, we need to be checking it (because it’s already breaking again). It tells us that the last great meeting we had is already being forgotten. It tells us that the bathroom we just cleaned is probably dirty again. Ultimately, it tells us not to lose our temper and get frustrated (like so many managers do), because you’re actually frustrated with something you’ll never change. You might as well get angry at gravity. And that leads to the second thing we’ve learned.
(2) We’re not saying to accept a messy business. But what we have to realize, is that to keep a business in order, it takes a tremendous amount of energy.
We see a lot of businesses get a burst of energy, have meetings, fix a problem, solve issues. And that’s great. But those fixes are only going to last for a limited time. The Law of Entropy is at work, chewing up your organization like a wood chipper. Or, put another way: get your feet off your desk; it’s time to get to work again.
It may seem silly, but there really is something important here. Understanding that we are in a constant battle against the force of Entropy helps us to design our systems better. More than this, it reminds us to go back and check on what we think we fixed, or the system we put in place to solve a problem. It teaches us not to get mad when we see things slipping. Instead, it shows us just how much more energy we need to put into something to make it “stick.”
We’ll never get things perfect. We’ll never stop having to work hard to get things the way we want them. And when we do, it will only be for a little while. The disorder will come again; energy will be required. This is how our world works.
You can apply this to a business, a relationship, or the cleanliness of your garage. It helped us a little; thought it might help you.
Of course, the one really bright side to this Entropy Equation? No matter how many times you wash your car with us, it’s getting dirty again!
And for that, Entropy, we love you.