Applying Science Terminology to Business

“If life were climbing a mountain in order to reach the top, then the greater part of life would end up being “en route.”
— Ichiro Kishimi, Fumitake Koga
This essay was originally published as the introduction to Good Work—Edition Nº 39 on Holloway.com.
Soundtrack:
When You’re Ready by Tadashi

At Mattermark, the company I helped start before Holloway, we were in the business of collecting data on private companies so investors could determine which ones might make good investment targets. To measure this and convey it to our customers, we began thinking about companies in terms of physics equations. For example, we built a “momentum score” (momentum = mass * velocity) that took into account how big the company was and how fast it was either growing or shrinking.

Another physics concept I love to apply to a business is entropy. I’m convinced that the key to teamwork lies in how one manages the cycle of order to chaos, chaos back to order. Like those scenes in the movies where the general walks down the silent and still ranks of his men before battle to deliver a rallying speech, annual planning, a process many of us are undoubtedly part of right now, exists to bring the team up to a local maximum of order.

Tim O’Reilly uses another term, not from physics but evolutionary biology, to describe business: fitness landscapes. The idea is simple. Picture a two-dimensional space with peaks and valleys. The peaks are the local maxima, the valleys the local minima. To navigate from one peak to a taller one, you have to climb down into a valley and then begin a new climb.

In reality, the landscape is not two-dimensional, nor is it stable. The market is a constantly evolving three-dimensional landscape where one change from one company can make one peak rise and others fall. The leader must always be collecting information to both level up the team’s ability to summit peaks and decide when a peak is worth leaving. So what is Good Work? Good Work is fifty years of getting good at climbing.

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