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Managing Via The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle

May 24, 2021

HEISENBERG UNCERTAINTY PRINCIPLE: The position and the velocity of an object cannot both be measured exactly, at the same time, even in theory.

Werner Heisenberg was a German physicist. In 1927 he articulated the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. He was talking about physics. He was trying to study particles, electrons and things. He realized that he could figure out where a particle was supposed to be, but not where it was headed. Or, he could calculate where a particle was supposed to be going, but not where it was at any one time.

Heisenberg is not known as a great management guru. In fact, this may be the first time Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle has been used to talk about management.

I hiked up a mountain a couple weeks ago. I was exhausted afterward. I remember sitting in my chair. I had removed one hiking boot, and I was waiting to remove the other one. Waiting for what? Waiting to get the energy to remove the second boot. So, I just sat there, arms on my knees, one boot on, the other on the floor. It was a picture. Sort of Norman Rockwell meets Joe The Plumper.

But, if you took that picture what would it tell you? Was I getting ready to go hiking? Or was I just getting done? You could know my location, but not my direction. How often does that happen in our lives?

It happens all the time on social media. You see the cool picture of someone in some exotic location. Are they having a good time? Or, did they just have to pull the kids together and hope to get one where no one is throwing up?

You don’t know. You can’t know.

The same thing happens with direction. I saw a news story over the weekend. It stated that 70 Washington DC police officers have recently retired. You know the direction, but you don’t really know the position. Is 70 a lot or a little? I don’t know. The story didn’t say. Direction, but no idea if 70 was high or low or about average.

I’m a big Louis L’Amour fan. Before he became a Western writer, “Duke” LaMoore had a lot of jobs. At one point he got a job digging post holes. The holes were foundation holes for military buildings. Most guys on the crew dug one hole per day.

Duke wasn’t most guys. Duke and one other guy on the crew had a competition. They could both dig two holes per day. One day Duke and his coworker finished their first holes by noon. They were taking a brief break, leaning on their shovels. Just at that moment the foreman opened the door to his office and looked out at the crew. He saw two of the crew leaning on their shovels.

I’ll have no loafers on my crew. You two are fired!

Duke and the other guy both got canned. It wasn’t fair. And it was all because of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. The foreman couldn’t know both the position and the direction that Duke was going.

Keep that in mind when you open your office door and look out at your crew.

Stay safe

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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