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Irony and Mr. Heisenberg

Joe Benesh is a senior architect with Shive-Hattery and president + CEO of the Ingenuity Company, a strategic planning, diagramming, framework development, and design thinking consulting firm.

A German physicist named Werner Heisenberg introduced a principal called the “observer effect” in the early part of the 20th century. The principle states that the act of observation or measurement actually changes what is being observed. An example of this would be if you wanted to determine (observe) if a pie was hot, you might stick your finger into the filling to determine the temperature. This observation changes the pie - it has a hole where you put your finger into it – but you have gathered the data you sought. Bundesarchiv_Bild183-R57262,_Werner_Heisenberg

There are several cycles in organizational development – the entrepreneurial phase, the management phase, the reorganization / recreative phase. Every successful organization goes through these cycles as they become fully integrated.

As you work to strategically manage development through these cycles, it is important to consider the observer effect. Certain organizational development cycles are more suited to different types of individuals – the most effective way to capitalize on the effect is to determine the best way to impact the organization as a function of what phase it is in.

This is where the leadership differentiates itself from management as a construct. In order to move through these cycles effectively and create sustainable growth (not only in size, but in capacity / capability), the C-suite must capitalize on the opportunity to show leadership by hiring or repurposing human resources to maximize the potential of the organization.

Related to the observer effect, there is another construct in quantum mechanics called the uncertainty principle. First published by Heisenberg in 1927, the principle basically states that in a pair of related variables or inequalities, the more information you are able to determine about one of these variables, the less you are able to determine about the other.

This is different than observer effect in key ways, but equally important. As you consider the cycles above, there may be a tendency in the C-suite to focus on specific types of employee profiles. For example, in the management cycle, there may be a tendency to target non-conformists because they may be considered outliers in this phase. The effect of this might be that lower performing conformist employees may be hired to produce more consistent results, while these high performing non-conformists are driven out.

It is difficult to look at both things at once with equal emphasis, but the entire cycle needs to be taken into account. While management might focus on these outliers as problem areas, the uncertainty principle would urge balance between these individuals and those who conform within that phase of the cycle, looking at the entire system in a holistic sense. These non-conformists may actually be the key to significant growth in other phases of organizational development.

In this case, it is actually possible to ruin things by trying to fix them; what you thought you were measuring got thrown off by trying to measure it – short-term corrections vs. long-term sustainability. It’s ironic, but the point is sound – while you are looking at one metric, you might become so focused on it that you may lose track of another. The most common example I have seen regarding this is the shift between wanting the best talent and wanting to produce the best results. Sometimes those things can be extraordinarily difficult to balance.

Transformative leadership can make itself evident in many ways as it relates to management. By calibrating the correct amount of nondestructive “observer effect” and by balancing all facets of the uncertainty principle as they relate to human or other resources in your organization, you can truly build a balanced system with dynamic capabilities. This translates to a culture of transparency, innovation, and respect for the diverse strengths and talents of employees, management, and engagement with your organizational mission, vision, and core values.

 For more information:Joe _Benesh_2011

 Contact: joe@ingenuitycompany.com

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Joe. I understand what you've shared here. Nice article and helpful. If I could whittle it down, it would be about complementary balances in an organization and in those relationships in the organization, at all levels.

I am curious how you, in your work, measure the organizations you serve, in terms of their life cycle and in measuring the balance of people and skills in the organization?

Also, how do you help the architecture firm apply this to their process?

Thank you.

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