LEADERSHIP: The First Law of Organizational Thermodynamics

This is a transcript of REPSradio.com Episode 017. To listen to the Podcast or download resources, Click Here.

Hey…welcome!  I trust you’re having an exceptional day!

In this (and the next) Episode of REPSradio.com, we’re gonna talk…science.

We’re gonna talk about the Laws of Thermodynamics- the First Law, and the Second Law.

I’m gonna walk you through how these indisputable laws of natural physics are quite DIFFERENT when it comes to you, your team, your culture, and your organization.

In this Episode we’re gonna discuss the First Law- energy IN…versus energy OUT of a system.

In Episode 18, I’m gonna take you through the Second Law- Organizational Entropy, and HOW to SUSTAIN performance in spite of forces that will otherwise drag you down.

Let’s get to it.

If you’re in any type of industry where heat transfer takes place, or you passed eighth-grade science class, you should have some awareness of  the “First Law of Thermodynamics”.

You might not know the formula, but you likely remember this: “Energy can neither be created or destroyed- it can only be transformed.”

I remember countless experiments in my tenth-grade Physical Science College Prep class related to this First Law.

Our teacher, Mr. Gunderson, had us do all kinds of things in an attempt to disprove the math.

Of course, he KNEW our efforts would only prove the law unbreakable.

And- despite our best efforts- the Law ALWAYS won.

Mr. Gunderson was the same guy who told us that one day we’d pay more for a gallon of water than for a gallon of gasoline.

Go figure.

More recently, in all the work we’ve done with PPI power industry clients- whether nuclear, coal, natural gas, or renewables, underlying production is always focused on heat factors, thermal efficiencies, and reducing losses…from the system.

Nature provides hard and fast limits.

Yes, in Newtonian Physics, the whole “conservation of energy” thing holds [very] true.

When it comes to people, however, the First Law is about as limiting as trying to catch rainwater with a kitchen strainer.

In fact, as I revealed in Episode 11 of REPSradio.com, “human performance” follows a completely different set of rules.

When it comes to you and your team members, the First Law of Organizational Thermodynamics is:  Energy is continuously being created or destroyed.

To begin- let’s talk about…YOU.

When doing work, no matter what your role or position, you are part of some larger effort- likely part of a team.  And you can look at the overall picture of whatever it is you do, combined with the people and resources you do it with- as a system.

Inputs come in, energy gets manipulated…and outputs go out, representing the value you add to (or subtract from) the system.

Unlike the limits imposed by nature on physical heat transfer, conductivity, and transition of energy from one physical form to another, you are a human being, and your behaviors…your performance…are not bound by the same constraints.

In fact, as stated in the First Law of Organizational Thermodynamics, YOU are continuously CREATING or DESTROYING ENERGY.

When you think about what you do from a system perspective – tasks you initiate and complete and interactions you have with others- you CREATE ENERGY by- Generating ideas,

Initiating and improving projects, and focusing on POSSIBILITY (rather than the reasons why something CAN’T be done).

Instead of responding with the epidemic “I’ll try” when asked to do something- whether it’s lead an initiative, pick up someone else’s slack (or anything in between), you affirm, “It will be done”- THEN you make it happen.

And… you light the fires of productivity, igniting sparks of enthusiasm and fanning the flames of the good efforts and attitudes of others whenever possible.

On the other hand, you can also SUCK…energy that is.

Relative to the system you’re operating in at any given moment, you DESTROY ENERGY by doing things like…passively standing by- “waiting to see what happens”.

By pointing out why things CAN’T be done- or why they couldn’t possibly work.

By having your only contribution during meetings be the consumption of bagels, muffins, or donuts.

And- by complaining and whining because your entitled expectations aren’t being met- or because you feel somebody else got a “better deal”

And here’s the thing- whether you’re CREATING or DESTROYING ENERGY- the energy being input INTO you-  is the SAME.

You take up the same physical space, breathe the same amount of air…consume the same amount of company funds and benefits.

Output however?

Completely different.

ENERGY is continuously being CREATED or DESTROYED- by YOU.

And you’re making this choice…every day…moment-by-moment.

This concept geometrically multiplies when we take it to the team level.

Not only is each team member CREATING or DESTROYING ENERGY individually- within a team you have what’s called, “synergy”.

I’m sure you’ve heard this term before- it’s one of the “management school” terms that’s been overused and abused for years now- yet, fully understood by only a few.

In management school, synergy is taught as something to be achieved- where working together- the sum of the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.


Where it’s not been taught properly, however, is that synergy (at some level) ALWAYS exists…on ANY team.

And- it works in BOTH directions.

It has tremendous power to multiply the GOOD when team members work together with positive focus; however, it also multiplies the BAD when a team’s infected with dysfunction and commiseration.

The power of synergy geometrically increases either the CREATION or DESTRUCTION of ENERGY.

What are the symptoms of a team that’s CREATING ENERGY?

Day-to-day functions are completed seamlessly- with each person doing MORE than their “fair share”.

Members operate to a Code of mutual accountability and support.

When given a project, task, or assignment- it’s approached with a “can do” attitude while maintaining focus on safety, reliability, and efficiency.

AND- the success of other teams and departments is assisted, promoted, and reinforced.

On the other hand, synergy can ALSO exponentially increase the SUCK factor-  the ability for a team to DESTROY ENERGY.

What are the symptoms?

Are you experiencing in-fighting and dysfunction, with members of your team vying for favor or position?

Is it ‘every person for themselves’, or worse yet, a pit of commiseration where anything perceived as ‘bad’ is reinforced and amplified?

When given a project, task, or assignment- is it scrutinized for whether or not it’s truly “your job” and looked upon as a chore that should’ve been given to some other team?

Do you see your team in competition with other teams, other departments…other disciplines?

If so, you’re DESTROYING organizational ENERGY in a VERY big way.

And, oh by the way-  if you’re the leader of a team- whether your title is CEO, VP, Director, Manager, or Supervisor- the responsibility for the multiplied CREATION or DESTRUCTION of ENERGY rests squarely upon YOUR pillow when you lay your head down each evening.

Blame it on the science geek in me, but I simply can’t resist.

There is a formula for Newton’s first law of thermodynamics within a system, and it goes like this:  E2 – E1 = Q – W.

I know this is a PodCast, where you’re likely just listening, which makes this a far from ideal venue for working through formulas; however, perhaps you can jot it down, OR download and print out the transcript: E2 – E1 = Q – W.

In this formula, “E” stands for energy, Q is heat transfer INTO the system, and “W” is work done BY the system.  So in words, the formula reveals- the internal energy of the system (E2 – E1) is equal to the difference between the heat transfer into the system (Q) and the work done by the system (W).

And as Newton himself, and countless others have proven since, it always must equal out- that is, in standard physics.

I know…I know.

If you’re like many- you could care less about…formulas.

However, if you can put forth [just] a little effort to understand them, they can often be the switch that turns the light on for you.

And, of course, I had to come up with a counter formula for how this works when it comes to the performance of human beings.  Here it is:

E2 = E1 * (C – D)

In this formula, E2 represents the total energy (or VALUE) of the system.

This applies whether we’re talking about you as an individual, your team, or the culture and climate of your entire organization.

E1 represents energy input into the system, and “C minus D” is the difference between attitudes, choices, actions, and behaviors that either CREATE or DESTROY ENERGY.

Put into words, the Total Energy output or VALUE of your “people” system equals the energy and resources you consume, multiplied by actions and behaviors that either CREATE or DESTROY ENERGY.

Make sense?

And multiplication generates EXPONENTIAL opportunity.

When it comes to a system of either one person, a work team, or an entire organization, human attitudes, the choices, and the behaviors negate Sir Isaac’s formula.

And for you as an individual, it SHOULD get quite personal, because, let’s be honest- on a moment-by-moment basis…no matter what you’re doing- you’re either CREATING ENERGY…or you’re SUCKING from the system.

And, as always, it’s your choice.

It’s your choice as an individual.

And collectively- it’s your choice as a team.

Remember- behaviors never lie.

You can choose to CREATE more than you take, or…you can find countless justifications and excuses why it’s ‘okay’ to SUCK.

In Boy Scouts, we were always taught to leave the campsite better than we found it.

Shouldn’t we all live our lives with a similar mantra- that the world will be better…in some way…because of the energy we CREATED during our tenure?

In the next Episode of REPSradio.com, we’re gonna talk about how to deal with the Second Law of Organizational Thermodynamics- Organizational Entropy.

Until then,



Talk soon!

Tim Autrey, Founder/CEO

By | 2018-02-14T13:40:17+00:00 February 14th, 2018|Uncategorized|0 Comments

About the Author:

Tim Autrey is a recognized thought leader in human performance. Through his ground-breaking approach known as Practicing Perfection® and creation of the Practicing Perfection Institute (PPI), he has helped organizations around the world develop next-level leadership while enhancing safety and reducing human error.

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