|Quote displayed in the Legacy exhibition at the Nobel Museum, Stockholm|
I'm certainly no physicist. I do however enjoy the subject. I find it inspiring to read about the history of the discipline.
The physicist turned philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn has long been my guide in making sense of the twists and turns of the natural sciences. He described the way in which one paradigm (for example Einsteinian physics) replaces another (Newtonian physics) in the march of progress. However, he argued that the new paradigm is always able to incorporate the functionality of the old.
This is why in an age when the errors of Newtonian physics are well known, and when relativity and quantum mechanics describe the (current) truth of our world, many engineers can still use Newton's concepts to build engines, bridges and buildings. Newtonianism is flawed as a truth, but for simpler practical applications still works.
Newtonianism can be described as a kind of faux-truth within a bigger truth. At a fundamental level it is incorrect and therefore cannot describe everything within the larger truth, however this does not prevent it from usefully describing limited parts of the whole.
I view the relationship between traditional workplace methods and the control-chaos-values approach that I am active in promoting, in the same way. Traditional approaches (let’s call them scientific-systemic) are very practical. They’re useful for efficiency, reliability and stability. However we should (like any discipline) be ever-striving for a more complete truth (in this case about the workplace), and I believe that scientific-systemic can only usefully describe a limited part of the full picture.
I am firmly of the belief that the full truth of organisations is greater than scientific-systemic alone. In the same way that Einstein described concepts such as space-time, which were incompatible with Newton’s theories (and which allow us to understand the further reaches of the cosmos - as well as to implement GPS technology!), so too do the workplace concepts of chaos and values allow us to achieve more than we are able to with scientific-systemic.
It has been more than one hundred years since Einstein described both general and special relativity, and it is ninety years since 1925, that annus mirabilis of quantum mechanics. However engineers today still use Newton to create useful and necessary applications for us all. The difference is that in seeing the bigger Einsteinian picture, we are able to do so much more, to innovate and to make great progress towards the future.
This is why I believe we should not fear a new workplace approach that introduces ideas of chaos and values. It won’t destroy all the progress made under the old way of doing things. It will only add to it.