Quantum is the new black. The law of unlimited possibilities. Where everything is full of potential until it is fixed. In quantum physics itself, there is no limit to the different possibilities latent within any given situation, no limit to the number of possible perspectives on the quantum world. Hence “The Quantum Leader: A Revolution in Business Thinking and Practice”. How do you act as a leader in this world of technological upheaval, chaos, threats and opportunity?
The old (Newtonian) business thinking assumes that corporations and markets are like machines, capable of operating with simple, law-abiding certainty and predictability, that they are stable and controllable and best managed in a way that eliminates risk and assures equilibrium. That thinking is no longer fit for purpose. We have entered the quantum age.
Chaos and complexity apply to physical systems on our everyday level of reality, things like the weather, the flow of streams, the beat of the human heart. In the old science, the Newtonian paradigm, nature is seen as simple, law-abiding, and ultimately controllable. The whole science is about organised simplicity. In the new science, the quantum paradigm, nature is seen as complex, chaotic, and uncertain. It is all around us. It’s inside us, inside our bodies and our minds, and inside nearly every technological gadget on which we’ve come to depend.
The thinking associated with quantum physics and chaos and complexity science stresses the creative potential of uncertainty. Which means that invites leaders to “rewire” their brains and reinvent themselves, to think in a new way and thus to be in a new way. It invites them to become “quantum leaders.”
- Quantum leaders learn how to work with and thus thrive on uncertainty and instability. They know that creativity and innovation are best nurtured at “the edge of chaos.”
- Quantum leaders envision many possible outcomes of a situation or problem and explore, with the greatest possible range of input from others, many possible ways of addressing them.
- Quantum leaders make use of interconnected networks, dialogue groups, teams-within-teams. Teams are given more room for taking the initiative and self-organising their work structures and practices.
- To become a quantum leader requires nothing less than a different perspective on reality
- Quantum leadership implies that control gives way to some more subtle, intuitive feel for the situation and the creative potential of its indeterminacy.
Organisations are quantum too
We are starting to realise that business organisations are essentially dynamic energy systems. The new science says we live in a “participative universe” where conscious observers/agents make reality happen, where we are responsible for not just our own actions but for the world itself. Quantum science gives us the vision of an entangled universe where everything is subtly connected to everything else, indeed where everything is a part of everything else. Things cannot be described in isolation from their environment or context, and that wholes are greater than the sum of their parts.
Meaning and purpose
The good news is that the quantum worldview also promises to restore meaning and a sense of purpose to our lives and leadership. Hence the rise of “philanthropic capitalism”—capitalism that takes as its aim the making of money for a higher purpose, the making of money for what that money can achieve in the wider world.
As a business, you operate in a quantum vacuum. The quantum vacuum is the ground and source of everything and everyone that exists, conscious and unconscious, the driving force that causes the universe to evolve as it does, the prime substance that gives rise to all substance, the “prime mover” behind all movement, the reason for things being as they are, the sense of direction, the purpose behind things, the essential purpose coursing through our lives.
You are an active agent
That is a very far cry from the reductionist myth that tells us we are but accidental and random collocations of atoms in a universe without purpose or direction, or nerve pulses and chemical reactions in brains that are not conscious. Rather, as excitations of the quantum vacuum, we are co-creative agents of the field of existence, the agents through whom the God of physics acts in the world—agents through whom this God within physics feels its own way forward into an uncertain future.
Mental, emotional, and spiritual dimensions
That is why, in organisations, as in human beings, the questions of what priorities to set or which goals to pursue are emotional and spiritual questions. The human self has three levels: the mental, the emotional, and the spiritual—that deep layer of the self from which we are in touch with questions of meaning and value. Because organisations organise human beings, they, too, have mental, emotional, and spiritual dimensions. We decide which problems we choose to solve, what goals we think it worth attaining, and our willingness to follow the rules all spring from our emotional and spiritual dimensions—from our aspirations, our ambitions, our associations, and from our visions and deepest values.
No more does an organisation just consist of a series of smaller divisions separately labelled “Product Development,” “Marketing,” “Finance,” and so on. Both are Newtonian models based on the premise that the world consists of separate little atomistic bits. All the new sciences of the twenty-first century, both physical and biological, are holistic. Your business is holistic too. Quantum physics tells us that the universe actually consists of patterns of dynamic energy, self-organising wave patterns like so many whirlpools, the boundaries of each interwoven with those of all others. Our mental, emotional, and spiritual dimensions are interwoven, each feeding—and feeding on—the others. The same is true of the supposedly separate divisions of our organisations.
How do we predict and control complexity? How do we program chaos? Where are the iron laws that guarantee the behaviour (and therefore the creativity and the productivity) of what managers call “intellectual capital”? How do we quantify and measure the more human characteristics and motivations and uniquely human potential in those people that companies describe as their “greatest assets” or their “competitive advantage”? The corporate world does not need more human “thinking machines.” Silicon chips are cheaper, faster, and more reliable. And Newtonian organisations have no existing structures that foster emotional intelligence, let alone structures that foster the creative abilities of spiritual intelligence.
There is a need for a new leadership psychology. The self is a dynamic system, and our needs support each other in a dynamic way. The same is true in organisations. We cannot split off an organisation’s need for profit from its need to give employees self-esteem, nor from its need for deep vision.
- All fundamental transformation is ultimately spiritual transformation, spiritual in the very broadest sense as issuing from the level of reflection, meaning, and value.
- A company’s vision is its overall—and often unconscious—sense of identity, its aspirations, its sense of itself in the wider world, its deeper, motivating core values and long-term strategies.
- A company, like an individual, must always be able to access its spiritual core. That is the only level from which it can shift its existing assumptions, leadership patterns, and corporate structure.
- The organisation, potentiality, and thinking processes of the human brain are our most powerful model for creative thinking in organisations.
- Some brain scientists even argue that there is an actual quantum level in the brain, perhaps coupled with “complex” activity, that makes consciousness and creative thinking possible.
Trapped in your own paradigm
Like a pair of glasses, we wear to focus our visual world. Our paradigm focuses the whole of what we take to be reality. We are trapped inside our paradigm. If we want to transform the structure and leadership of our organisations, we have to address transformation at this fundamental paradigmatic level. They must learn to ask fundamentally new questions, bring themselves to a place where the very categories of thought and vision are different. The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle tells us that the questions we ask determine the answers we get.
The brain can do all these things because it is flexible, adaptive, and self-organising. It constantly rewires itself. The human brain is capable of three distinct kinds of thinking:
- The first, rational, logical, rule-bound thinking produces concepts, categories, and mental models similar to structures described by the Newtonian particle paradigm.
- The second kind of thinking, associative thinking, is generated in relation to less rational experience—our emotions, our felt, bodily experience, the associations we make between elements of our experience, the patterns that we detect or recognise.
- Our third kind of thinking is our creative, reflective thinking. The brain is nature’s most complex and multifaceted organisation. All human-made organisations are, in fact, reflections of this natural template. There is nothing planned or orderly about the brain’s structure
If leaders deepen their understanding of this potential—if they raise their own consciousness of brain dynamics, structure, and capacity—they will be better placed to rewire the corporate brain of the companies they lead.
Rewire the corporate brain
Today’s world is not stable, predictable, or controllable. Many of us feel that our lives, both personal and working, are spiralling out of control. The books we read at university are out of date before we graduate. Companies cannot remain sustainable on the habits and assumptions, the skills and the thinking tools that existed when they were startups. Rewiring the brain, both individual and corporate, is no longer an option; it is a necessity.
A great deal of thinking involved in business-as-usual is serial thinking. This kind of thinking does not tolerate nuance or ambiguity. Everything must be clear and logical. Companies have many structures in place that embody serial thinking. These organisations function very much like the brain’s one-on-one like neural tracts, which give us logical, rational, rule-bound, how-to thinking. This is our “first kind of thinking.” It gives us our “mental intelligence (IQ).”
Networked organisations function very similar to the brain’s neural networks, which give us tacit knowledge and the ability to learn skills and to recognise patterns. This is our “second kind of thinking.” It gives us our bodily “emotional intelligence (EQ).”
In the brain, as we have seen, logical (serial) thinking and networked (parallel) thinking are integrated through a third kind of neural function, synchronous neural oscillations binding different parts of the brain. These are 40 Hz oscillations, oscillating at forty cycles per second. They are also known as “gamma waves.” This third kind of thinking gives us our “spiritual intelligence (SQ),” our intelligence rooted in meaning, vision, and value. It allows us to use our whole brains.
Organisations need infrastructures that make it possible to use their whole brains. We need it to rewire the corporate brain. Computers work within assumptions, habits, or mental models. They work within the boundaries and the rules or programs. They play a finite game. Quantum thinking moves the goalposts. The essence of quantum thinking is that it can take us to the edge of any particular model or perspective. Quantum space and time have little meaning. Quantum events can’t be controlled. Quantum thinking plays with the boundaries, constantly reinventing them. It plays an infinite game. In the language of quantum physics, it is “particle-like.” Associative thinking deals with experience as a whole, but in a way that is blind to the parts, blind to logic and rationality. It is “wavelike.” Quantum thinking is holistic, both particle-like (left brain) and wavelike (right brain) at the same time.
Quantum systems dynamics
Quantum system dynamics is called into play when the unexpected happens, The brain tries out all these possibilities, apparently simultaneously like quantum feelers toward the future (virtual transitions), until it arrives at a narrative, a mental model, a new set of neural connections, that makes sense. The notion that all fragments are separately existent is evidently an illusion, and this illusion cannot do other than lead to endless confusion and conflict. Quantum physics is radically indeterminate. Quantum events just happen as they happen, without rhyme or reason, making the prediction of any one event impossible. Because they are indeterminate, quantum entities have no fully fixed identity until they are in relationship.
This gives the quantum system maximum flexibility to define itself as it goes along. When a plan does emerge, it will belong to the group as a whole, rather than being a policy imposed upon them. In a quantum organisation, every employee is a potential leader. The competitive advantage usually rests with the party best able to handle and use the ambiguity.
Do not fragment
That is why the division of labour is a reductive philosophy. Break the job down into parts and do it more efficiently. Breaking organisations into competing divisions is reductive. Each division, it is argued, can be most effective in concentrating on its own region of focus, but, inevitably, it leads to Newtonian fragmentation and actual loss of overall control. In new paradigm science, emergence and self-organisation are key. Quantum wholes are larger than the sum of their parts. Because each bit has both individual (particle-like) and system (wavelike) properties, the system properties only develop within a system, within a context.
The fullest potential is achieved by letting the system unfold, emerge, as it will. Many a Newtonian organisation has created a bureaucratic Frankenstein’s monster with its emphasis on top-down control, tight structure, and imposed plans or solutions, and its obsession with efficiency.
Just as in quantum and chaotic physical systems, the futures of creative human organisations can only emerge in a free-flowing (that is, not heavily controlled) dialogue with the wider economic, political, social, and ecological environments. That again requires a new kind of trust, a trust in the emergent properties of complex situations.
It is Schrödinger’s Cat
When a quantum bit wants to get from A to B, it doesn’t follow just one path. On the contrary, it throws out an infinite number of possible paths; these are called virtual transitions. Each path represents one possible best path from A to B, a “feeler toward the future.” In fact, in quantum reality, B itself is not yet sharply defined. B is still part of a future scenario yet to emerge.
The most important principle of the new science focuses our attention on the importance of not knowing everything about a situation. But the Uncertainty Principle tells us we can only know one member of a pair of complementary variables at a time. We can never know both position and momentum. That has enormous implications in both science and business. We see only what we look for. Anytime we act on a quantum system, we change it. Our questions, our assumptions, our prejudices, our beliefs—in short, our paradigm—determine how we will act, and therefore what changes we will bring about.
You and your business should be as one
We are all members of a living system whose many parts influence and mutually define each other. The world does not make us. We make the world. This is a crucial insight of the new quantum worldview. We know now there is no radical split between mind and body. Our character is affected by our genetic code, but also by the material and social environment in which those genes flourish. Therefore, there is no more basis for a sharp distinction between public and private, between the selves we bring to work and the selves we share with our families and friends. This distinction is an illusion created by mechanistic structures and attitudes and dissolves with their dissolution.
In this participatory universe, no one can be passive
New paradigm science sees that the universe is a vast pool of seething potentiality, an interwoven pattern of dynamic energies that convey information. There is no emptiness. Things, objects on which we can focus—rocks, trees, stars, buildings, animals, ourselves—are all specific, recognisable patterns of incarnate energy and information. Organisations, too, are persisting patterns of dynamic energy and evolving information. That is why they have character, personality, a recognisable style over the years even though their employees and even their CEOs come and go.
It is expressed in its style of leadership, in its style of doing business, in the basic values that inspire its spoken and unspoken code of practice. The Art of Japanese Management, Richard Pascle and Anthony Athos point out that Japanese firms like Matsushita Electric list as core company values things like fairness, harmony and cooperation, courtesy and humility, and gratitude. Newtonian organisations seek their identity in technique, products, and structure. New paradigm organisations (and some of these are very old, very established firms) draw their focus, their energy from a deeper pool of vision and more-lasting values.
Your organisational structure needs to change
The structural model for our Western, Newtonian organisations is the serial thinking process in the human brain. All Newtonian systems are fated to certain death in a cold and silent universe. Nature is telling us there is a better model for organisations than Newton’s, a better model for thinking than rule-bound, goal-oriented thinking in isolation.
You need to go quantum
You need a quantum organisation because of their similarity to quantum physical systems and processes. This model has the both/and qualities of particle (individualist) systems and wave (networked) systems and the further qualities found in the creative thinking and organisational potential of our distinctively human brains.
The features of a quantum organisation:
- The whole organises the parts and every part is related to and partially defined through every other part.
- The quantum organisation is holistic.
- The quantum organisation must be flexible and responsive at the edge.
- The quantum organisation must be bottom-up, self-organising, and emergent.
- The quantum organisation will thrive on diversity.
- A quantum organisation would be like a jazz jam session.
- A quantum organisation would be playful.
- A quantum organisation would be “deeply green.”
- A quantum organisation will be vision-centred and value-driven.
- A quantum organisation would recognise that people seek meaning, that we transcend our frustrations and our limitations with dreams.
Aks the questions
“Why?” questions are critical to the whole scientific spirit, which is a spirit of endless inquiry. In quantum science, Heisenberg’s famous Uncertainty Principle established that asking questions (doing experiments) actually creates reality. Questions pluck possibilities from the infinite sea of potentiality (the quantum vacuum) and turn them into actualities. A quantum organisation is a questioning organisation. Everyone in the organisation is encouraged to think and to question. Can we imagine a corporate CEO who says to young executives on his board, “I want you to come in here tomorrow morning with ten good questions, ten things that you don’t understand”?
To qualify as servant leaders in the deepest sense, I think that leaders must have four essential qualities:
- They must have a deep sense of the interconnectedness of life and all its enterprises.
- They must have a sense of engagement and responsibility, a sense of “I have to.”
- They must be aware that all human endeavour, including business, is a part of the larger and richer fabric of the whole universe.
- And perhaps most important of all, servant leaders must know what they ultimately serve.
Rather, business becomes a spiritual vocation in the largest sense of that word.
Global business has the money and the power to make a significant difference in today’s troubled world and that by making that difference, it can help itself as well as others. More businesses should add a moral dimension to their activities. And we should eliminate the assumed natural distinction between private enterprise and public service institutions. You need to become a leader who serves the community, the planet, humanity, the future, and life itself.