Energy, Teams and the 2nd Law of Thermal Dynamics

Part I – People and Energy, Establishing the Case

People and energy

The human race, people, our species,  are essentially reflections of the universe. Small, concentrated balls of energy that nature and a fair bit of natural selection has evolved as a mechanism for capturing, transforming and storing energy. Your fundamental pre PC world ETL idea. Thats about it. Energy has rules, immutable laws of physics and stuff. I wont talk about that too much here, because I’m no physicist.

As humans we are a social beings though, we don’t just hang out on our own absorbing or leaking energy into the space around us. We are drawn to other people, we form groups to execute on larger visions – solve problems that are real or we imagine might be real. We stay in large groups for a multitude of reasons. Some personal, some financial, some because we believe in a higher goal. Maslows hierarchy at play. Nearly everyone you encounter in your team is going to have a different reason for being there. Thats just being human and we are all at a different stage of our journeys towards self-actualisation and the satisfaction of higher order needs. Some further along than others.


How is energy created by people?

As we form these groups, and bring our energy into contact with others, we create friction which generates new amounts of energy. I’m more thinking friction as that energy created by forces interacting, rather than chemical reactions. Leonardo da Vinci was one of the first to critically write about the friction created by two surfaces interacting. “The sketches and text show Leonardo understood the fundamentals of friction in 1493,” Hutchings said in a University of Cambridge press release. “He knew that the force of friction acting between two sliding surfaces is proportional to the load pressing the surfaces together and that friction is independent of the apparent area of contact between the two surfaces. These are the ‘laws of friction’ that we nowadays usually credit to a French scientist, Guillaume Amontons, working two hundred years later.” 

Then there is the also the idea of Friction in War as attributed to von Clausewitz. “That which prevents reality from behaving in an ideal way. Friction exhibits itself in the form of incomplete information, unanticipated side-effects, human factors such as mistakes and misunderstandings, and the accumulation of unexpected event”. All these human caused events are the outcomes from people, which create friction, which in turn creates energy.

When we don’t have all the information we need to exert and combine and create energy to uncover it – we analyse, we talk, we research, we do things. When we make mistakes that impact others this causes friction, which in turn creates energy in us and others around us impacted by those mistakes. Misunderstanding others causes tension and conflict, which creates friction which in turn creates energy. And the consent accumulation of things we didn’t plan for, of outcomes from changes in our complex environments creates friction, which creates energy.

Its the energy created from the friction thats caused by events that we are seeking. Both these types of friction are evident in the social groups and structures we create to Get Stuff Done and solve problems we think are worth solving.

Energy and Teams – “In the Beginning there was only Darkness…”

This energy that is in us, and gets created or magnified by friction,  can be distributed in the people in our group, the people we interact with, and if powerful and persistent enough, even the world around us. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” (Margaret Mead).  Have you ever held a child close and almost perceptibly “drawn” energy from them? I have – Daddies sorry kids promise it wont happen again!

Sometimes teams create and just exude that energy. You look in from the outside, and just want to be part of it.  It’s literally magnetic. The interaction of people, the conflict and conversation, the buzz of activity all create a sense of energy.

I have been fortunate enough to work not once, but three times  in teams like that. Once was I was in the Army in an Armoured Corp unit. Twice in Program teams focusing on building awesome products for our customer. Its something you are also, once you have lived it, constantly seeking again. 

In fact  when  new projects, missions, teams, start-ups are kicked off, as people are brought together and combined friction ensues, and massive amounts of energy are created. Everyone is excited. Teams form bringing the energy of multiple people into a concentrated space, bringing their energy with them and combining and creating that energy in the friction of their interactions.  

The challenge is new and fresh. The energy is built up like a tesla coil. The way of working, the system and process we follow is created. But something strange happens over time, almost every time. That energy dissipates. 

Does this resonate with your thinking and view of the what makes the teams tick? Is friction what causes and maintains energy in teams?

It would be great to hear your thoughts as I “iteratively” put together Part II of  Energy, Teams and the 2nd Law of Thermal Dynamics – Entropy.  Or, how does energy dissipate? Following on in Part III  I’m going to talk about why the constant re-creation of energy is important, and how agile teams are uniquely suited vehicles to achieve this.

Thanks for reading!



2 Replies to “Energy, Teams and the 2nd Law of Thermal Dynamics”

  1. I understand what you’re getting at and I agree with your objectives, but from a physics point of view it’s heat, not energy, that is created by friction. The confusing of the metaphors distorts the message.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing Pithy! I’m looking at heat as being thermal energy. So still energy right? Just manifested in a different form that can be used for other purposes, like transferrance to keep warm. In reality though im more interested in the von Clausewitz definition of friction and how that MIGHT create energy. How that energy manifests in exploring. That’s probably not truly about physics. Thanks for the input will definitely help shape Part II!


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