A concept from physics called ninetropy can make your life run more smoothly

By | March 17, 2024

Life is full of small decisions: should I pick up that sock from the floor? Should I do the dishes before going to bed? How about fixing the leaking faucet in the bathroom?

Leaving a sock on the floor is a manifestation of a concept in physics you may have heard of: entropy. Entropy is a measure of the amount of energy lost in a system. If a system loses too much energy, it will collapse into chaos. Picking up one sock only takes a little bit of energy. But if you don’t take good care of your yard, leave the pipes clogged, and never fix electrical problems, it all leads to a chaotic home that takes a lot of energy to repair. And that chaos will drain your time and ability to accomplish other things.

The good news is that entropy has an opposite: ninthtropy. As a researcher who studies social systems, I have found that thinking in terms of nogentropy and energy can help you combat entropy and chaos in everyday life.

A room with clothes on the floor and piled high on the bed.

Minimize energy loss, maximize progress

In both physics and social systems, energy can be defined as the capacity or ability to do work. For more than twenty years, I have studied social systems in schools, community dialogues, universities, corporations, and nonprofits. During that time, I’ve noticed that energy losses are a constant – for example, meetings of four people to plan meetings for seven people, or everyone’s worst nightmare: meetings that could have been done via email. These small frustrations can even build up to a point where good employees start to quit.

After thinking about energy for so long, I—like others—began to wonder whether applying physics concepts to social systems could help them function better.

Over the past four years, my colleagues and I have been developing a theory of nogentropy, using interviews and case studies to explore how energy is lost or gained in many types of systems – including higher education, online education leadership, workplace organizations, and online learning institutions.

Our work suggests that when people keep the idea of ​​nektropy in mind and take actions that limit or reverse energy losses, social systems are more efficient and effective. This can even make it easier for people to achieve bigger goals. In other words, yes, you need to pick up that sock, and yes, you need to improve your meetings, and if you do, you might be able to see other ways to prevent future energy losses.

A thermal image of a house showing heat spots coming from the windows.A thermal image of a house showing heat spots coming from the windows.

5 steps for ninetropical success

Based on my colleagues’ research and my research into nogentropy, we have come up with five steps to reverse energy loss in everyday life.

1: Find the entropy.

Identify places where energy is lost in the social systems of your daily life. It’s helpful to think of it as a thermal map of the exterior of your home, showing where heat (or energy) is being lost. A poorly sealed window leaks heat energy. A poorly organized kitchen makes it difficult to find things. A poorly designed onboarding system for new hires can lead to serious legal issues down the road.

2: Prioritize the losses.

Identify the largest or most annoying losses and the losses that most often catch your attention. For example, maybe that leaky kitchen faucet drives you crazy. Fixing this may free you up to consider other improvements to your kitchen that would make it more functional.

3: Come up with a plan.

Identify actions that will reverse the energy losses you’ve noticed and plan ways to address the highest priorities first. You can start by fixing the leaky faucet or picking up your socks; If pre-pre-planning meetings are causing your organization a lot of problems, analyze the problem and figure out how to solve it.

4: Try it out and pay attention.

Put the ideas into practice, but stay focused on energy gains and losses. As you try to implement Ninetropical ideas, keep track of what works, how much effort it took, and what ideas you come up with for future Ninetropical actions.

5: Go beyond just repair and maintenance.

As you work to reverse energy losses, you may find that sometimes you are actually maintaining a social system that is not conducive, no matter how smoothly it functions. Spending time improving orientation to introduce new employees to a company culture may not be very helpful if the culture itself needs to change. The best way to apply the idea of ​​​​ninetropy to social systems is to not only improve the small processes, but also look at the big picture and see whether the status quo itself promotes energy loss.

Seeing things through a ninetropical lens won’t fix a bad relationship or help you love a job you hate—these are complicated issues. However, if you start to notice where energy is being lost in your life, it will be easier to prioritize and act in ways that can improve the social systems around you.

[Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter.]

This article is republished from The Conversation, an independent nonprofit organization providing facts and trusted analysis to help you understand our complex world. It was written by: Alison Carr-Chellman, University of Dayton

Read more:

Alison Carr-Chellman does not work for, consult with, own shares in, or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *