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Entropy

Definition

A measure of disorder in a system.

When left alone, life becomes less organized, everything decays. Things with high entropy exhibit more disorder, while items with low entropy display more order.

All things will eventually lose order:

  • Ice melts into water
  • Smoke dissipates in the air
  • Ruins crumble
  • Sandcastles wash away

It is a fundamental law of the universe and, as the Second Law of Thermodynamics, a foundational chemistry concept: entropy increases over time.

Why Use It

It affects all aspects of our daily lives. We, humans, are aging and decaying every moment of every day. We forget skills that go unused. Soup is cooling the second it’s served. Entropy exists in the greatest and smallest things — even the universe is heading toward its ultimate collapse. Without entropy, everything would stay the same.

Picture emptying a box of matchsticks onto a table. They could all fall neatly into a straight line, but that never occurs. The odds of that variation are exceedingly low. There is only one scenario where the matchsticks would fall in that pattern when there are nearly infinite other ways for them to drop.

An orderly result isn’t likely to occur at random, and there are many more disorderly eventualities than orderly ones.

Order is temporary, and disorder is the default. Systems break down, and energy scatters.

When to Use It

So, what can you do to prevent entropy? Maintaining society, knowledge, skills, health, and so on requires diligence and discipline. Dedicating one’s life to a cause or creating a new company are efforts to curb disorder.

While matchsticks may fall onto a surface in disarray, you can order them neatly into a line. Dirty dishes can be cleaned. A Rubix cube can be solved.

To fight entropy is to use energy and effort to create structure and form. Life is made precious by creating order, whatever that may be for you, and for that work to stand up to entropy.

How to Use It

There are various ways to reduce entropy and mitigate its effects in business and life.

In business, one must invest time and money to reduce entropy as it is inherent in most aspects:

  • Equipment becomes defunct
  • Processes grow inefficient
  • Employees forget skills they learned

To mitigate this natural tendency, companies must work against it:

  • Buy new equipment regularly
  • Continuously optimize processes
  • Retrain employees on mission-critical skills

An inability to meet entropy with order will result in issues and ultimately can lead to bankruptcy. For example, a company that has yet to complete its digital transformation might have high entropy after letting it slide for years. In that case, switching gears will cost the company more effort and cost.

In life, you accrue a unique mixture of knowledge, skills, and talents. However, society is not explicitly designed for you. It is doubtful your unique skillset fits perfectly in your environment.

Designing your life and ensuring you fit is not only your responsibility but not one to take lightly. Your life depends on finding, discovering, and fitting yourself into your environment.

How to Misuse It

The concept has, over the years, been interpreted in many ways, and not all of them are justified. It’s essential to look at what items in life fall into disorder and apply the principle accordingly.

Next Step

Everything falls apart, and you must choose what to focus your time on, keeping disorder at bay. By resolving to make order out of disorder, you will give life meaning. You can solve the problems you want to work on and change the world. Ultimately, this is your contribution to the universe.

Where it Came From

In 1850, Scottish scientist and engineer Macquorn Rankine coined the term thermodynamic function and heat-potential. But identifying entropy belongs to Rudolf Clausius, who in 1865 studied the conversion of heat into work.

What Are Mental Models?

Mental models are thinking tools that help guide and shape our perceptions of the world. They simplify complexity so we can understand life better, make decisions confidently, and solve problems.

Deep Dive Into Mental Models

Deep Dive Into Mental Models

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