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Some Further Ideas on the Thermodynamics of Emotion


Over the last week or two I’ve spent some time writing about the ideas that arose after attending the first Thermodynamics of Emotion conference last year. I have a confession to make: It took me a long time to get around to writing about it. I think it took me a while to write because I was struggling to make some sense of the many diverse ideas I encountered. I’ve written about a few so far, but there are more.

Here is a brief summary of some of the other ideas that occurred to me after the conference. Many are expressed in the form of experiments:

  1. Use a Ratio of Perceived Exertion to measure tension and release prior to and after deployment/planning and other key ceremonies. The build up of tension and its subsequent release are essential elements of the emotional flow of an organization. We should be able to use a subjective measure to detect it within teams and programs. We could use this information map the waves of tension that flow through an organization. Do different organizational structures reflect these emotional waves differently?

  2. Measure capillary action in requirements flow to demonstrate speed differences in work flow by requirements size. Capillary action refers to the ability of a substance to flow through a system with little or no resistance (or even against forces like gravity). I suspect, that we could observe organizational systems with small, evenly sized units of work that flow more smoothly and rapidly than larger sized requirements.

  3. The impact Feedback on fast and slow transmission of emotions through organizations. Does feedback accelerate or dampen the flow of emotions through an organization?

  4. Psychological Studies that support the Thermodynamics of Emotion. There should be some supporting work in the psychological literature for these theories of emotion. The study of emotion in psychology is relatively new, but there should be some material that would be helpful.

  5. Thermodynamics of Emotion and Organizational Silos? Adrian Bejan gives a great example of the fast and slow movement of systems using the Denver airport (a fast central connector between slower stations). It makes me wonder if there is an organizational relationship between the existence of silos and the fast and slow transmission of information across an organization.

  6. Compare traditional hierarchical management information flow with dynamically managed team information flow. Again, Bejan points out that the hierarchical organization structure may have been a natural evolution of the most efficient way to organize large groups. However, I think there are many counter examples to this in nature. I’d like to use information flow as a means of testing more organic teaming versus hierarchy.

  7. Organizational Patterns of flow and energy – Startup, Dynamic, Fixed, and Rigid. This actually comes from an article in Forbes by Peter Hinnsen. He uses a different thermodynamic model to explain how organizations move through different states, just like some substances. They can move back and forth easily between gaseous, liquid, and solid states. But there are some state transitions that are one directional – once you make glass, you can’t get sand back out of it. So does the same sort of rules apply to our organizations? Once you move from a fluid startup to a rigid hierarchy, can you really go back to fluid again?

  8. Measuring the Pulse and Blood Pressure of your Organization. This last idea was just a lark. I wondered if we couldn’t have some diagnostic measures of an organization the same as we do for people. Can I measure the pulse of your organization by the number of deliveries per a fixed time period? Can I measure the pressure of your organization by a ratio of the size of your backlog divided by the batch size of each release? And would this be a useful comparison across companies?

Some of those ideas look pretty good. Others, perhaps not. Using models that cross different domains is risky business. I guarantee you some of this stuff won’t pan out. I still find these ideas exciting. They hold the potential for us to discover new ways to improve the way we work together. To me, that’s worth making a few mistakes.

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