A can of soup falls if you drop it, your car tire blows out when a nail punctures it, and eventually my barbeque grill cools down after grilling steaks, even in the hot Texas air.
Why is this? Allow me to explain.
While these things are all different, they do share a common denominator. They’re all explained by the second law of thermodynamics – entropy.
Defined, entropy is a measure of the disorder or randomness in a system. Put another way, entropy helps us measure the energy that disperses or spreads out in a process, any process.
Entropy, our foe
Here is where we begin to understand how this second law of thermodynamics describes a fierce foe to those of us trying to improve processes in our factories, hospitals, and office buildings.
It would seem that entropy never seizes. It never grows tired, frustrated, or bewildered. It’s never sick or complains about a sore back. It just relentlessly presses on.
And while I realize entropy is a measure and not really a thing… I’m pretending, if you’ll allow me, that it is a thing… a relentless thing in fact.
This thing explains why my garage looks great for a week or two after our annual spring cleaning and then falls to pieces a few months later. It’s why the fifth S (sustain) is so darn hard. It’s why control charts were invented (to determine when the disorder is getting out of hand).
And its why, as I’ve stated many times before, I personally believe “controlling” or even “sustaining” gains is next to an impossible task, long-term. Why? Because entropy works harder than you and me and all our friends combined. It’s just a fact of life.
What to do?
Right, so entropy is relentless and never tires and controlling gains are next to impossible. That’s just great. Let’s all just pack our bags and quit, right? Wrong.
Have you ever watched salmon swim upstream? It’s really one of the most amazing things you’ll ever watch.
I can only imagine how hard it is for these fish to battle the current. I wonder how tired they get? I wonder what motivates them? I wonder if they realize many of them will die on the journey?
I can’t answer these questions. But I do know these salmon may be the perfect role models for how we should approach our battle with entropy.
Swim Like Hell
You see these salmon aren’t satisfied with maintaining their present position (i.e. controlling gains). Chinook salmon, for example, swim more than 900 miles and climb 7,000 feet from the Pacific Ocean as they return to spawn each year. So with massive odds facing them they set off against a mighty foe and swim.
And so it is with us, we too must swim (i.e. continuously improve). In fact, we must swim like hell with full knowledge that entropy is waiting for us to relax… so it can do what it does best… bring disorder back to the system.