By Chris Myers
One of the most challenging aspects of growing up is realizing that the world is not as simple or predictable as we would like to think.
Complexity and uncertainty rule the day, and this inevitably clashes with our innate human desire to live in a world that is simple, predictable, and understandable.
Think back to your high school physics classes, which painted the picture of a world that abided by immutable rules, could be predicted, and ultimately provided some degree of certainty to its inhabitants.
Of course, as time goes on, you learn that this isn’t always the case. Take physics again, for example. In the past fifteen or so years since I was subjected to the rigors of AP Physics, the complex field of quantum mechanics has become more accessible and mainstream.
Quantum mechanics has upended my understanding of what I thought I knew about physics and taught me that the world is a much stranger place than we ever imagined and nothing is as it seems.Recommended For You
As I’ve studied the topic, I’ve come to realize that the trajectory of my understanding of physics closely mirrors my entrepreneurial journey.
Early on, I operated under the assumption that entrepreneurship, like traditional physics, was predictable and immutable.
However, after I started my own business, I found that entrepreneurship and quantum mechanics shared a similar strangeness.
In fact, some of the lessons and theories of quantum mechanics apply directly to my life as an entrepreneur and leader.
People, like particles, can exist in two states at once
One of the most famous thought experiments in quantum mechanics is that of particle-wave duality.
Put simply, particle-wave duality states that particles can exist in two forms at the same time both as a particle and as a wave.
As it was explained to me once, “I don’t know about you but when I’m alone in an elevator I move around, talk to myself, and sometimes dance, but when one someone else is in there with me I just stand there a do nothing. I’m the same person both times, but the behavior I exhibit changes based on my surroundings. Similarly, the particle is always both but the way it expresses itself is changed by its environment.”
It’s a difficult concept to wrap your head around, but it’s one that entrepreneurs, in particular, would be well-served to master.
I’ve found that people, just like particles, can exist in multiple states at once, at least in an emotional sense.
Imagine a team member who is uniquely talented, yet struggles to align those talents with the goals and desires of the organization as a whole. That individual may be an excellent fit one day, and a challenge the next.
There is a great temptation on behalf of leaders to classify people based on simple observations. They’re either a good team member or not. The truth, however, is that they can be both at the same time.
People, like particles, are involved, multi-dimensional, and difficult to predict. Trying to place them into a single bucket, especially in the context of business, leads to many of the frustrations that we encounter as entrepreneurial leaders.
This realization leads us to the next concept that we must master.
Observing something changes it
In quantum mechanics, the observer principle states that the simple act of observing a phenomenon necessarily impacts said phenomenon.
Imagine again, the man in the elevator I used in the earlier example. The determination of whether the man is dancing or standing still (or a particle looks like a particle or a wave) only happens when you observe it.
You essentially “catch” it in one state and that becomes its observable form.
It’s another mind-bending concept, but one that also applies to business.
As a leader, I can only focus on a few things at a time. I have to trust my team and the organization as a whole to hum along without my direct interaction.
When I do take a more in-depth look at a particular process or problem, the fact that I’m engaging tends changes the way people react.
Processes are quickly improved, work that was lagging picks up, and any slack that had developed is handled rapidly.
It’s impossible for a leader to observe or engage with a process without somehow exerting influence. This can be problematic when you’re trying to get to the bottom of an issue that is plaguing your company.
Being mindful of the fact your engagement will inevitably impact the process you’re observing can help you counteract some of the effects. Always take things with a grain of salt, and try your best to isolate your impact to get to the root of the issue.
Remember that perception is reality
One of the most exciting theories in quantum mechanics states that our reality is defined by the way our biology engages with the world.
In a sense, the very fabric of reality is a construct of our biocentric way of decoding the signals that we as humans receive.
As such, another life form, like an insect or animal, may experience a starkly different reality due to the unique way that their perception works.
For entrepreneurs, the same holds true. While we may not be different species, humans perceive the world in vastly different ways.
It’s easy to assume that a difficult client “just doesn’t get it,” but that would be intellectually lazy.
The truth is that the difficult client in question probably perceives the situation at hand in a starkly different way than you do, which in turn dictates their behavior.
It’s an important lesson for leaders to remember. People are different. They have different fears and motivations, and digest information according to their unique perspective.
If you go about your day assuming that everyone is operating on the same basis as you, it will slowly drive you mad. Instead, you need to learn to try and empathize with their thinking, even if you don’t agree with it.
Only then can you hope to find common ground and keep things moving forward.
I’m a big believer that understanding of multiple disciplines, whether science, humanities, or art, can help entrepreneurs build better businesses and grow as leaders.
On the surface, it may not seem as though quantum mechanics and business have much in common, but if you look beneath the surface, you’ll find that the lessons translate surprisingly well.
It turns out that business, like the quantum universe, is a kaleidoscope of infinite possibilities and interpretations.