The well-known motivational
theorist, Abraham Maslow, once commented: "If the only tool
you have is a hammer, you will see every problem as a nail." Today
many people are attempting to create organizational transformation using
a hammer and nail mentality. They diligently hammer away at issues with
logical, linear action plans, attempting to create major change with minimal
chaos. Consequently, the results of their new initiatives are often merely
incremental and sometimes only cosmetic. If we are to re-create our organizations
for the twenty-first century, we must release our outdated beliefs about
the way the world works and we must replace our time-worn hammers with
a radically new tool kit. Such a kit would contain new skills-skills that
are congruent with the new paradigm view of organizations as unpredictable,
interactive, living systems, rather than stable, clock-like machines.
Since the business
tools of planning, organizing, directing, and controlling are derivatives
of classical Newtonian physics, perhaps we can look to quantum physics
for an updated skill set. Though many new paradigm writers prefer to use
a biological metaphor, the basic principles of quantum mechanics provide
radical insights into a world that is both objective and subjective, logical
and irrational, linear and nonlinear, orderly and chaotic; a world in
which human observation somehow affects that which is observed. In short,
the principles of quantum mechanics challenge us to turn our view of reality
upside down and acknowledge that there is much more to life than meets
These quirky quantum
concepts can be translated into a highly practical skill set. I call these
skills Quantum Skills because they are premised on the assumption that
the quantum realm of energy is primary or causal and the material world
is secondary. The skills are:
The ability to see intentionally
The ability to think paradoxically
The ability to feel vitally alive
The ability to know intuitively
The ability to act responsibly
The ability to trust life’s process
The ability to be in relationship
Quantum Skills are ancient and futuristic, scientific and spiritual, simple
and difficult. They are key skills for the new millennium but they originated
in the mystical wisdom of ages past. Many of the world’s ancient spiritual
practices, as well as many state-of-the-art psychological theories, are
based on concepts that are similar to the quantum mechanical principles
from which these skills are derived.
skill, Quantum Seeing, is based on the premise that we live in
a subjective universe. Both quantum theory and contemporary research in
human perception suggest that over eighty percent of what we see in the
external world is a function of internal assumptions and beliefs. Yet
we, for the most part, continue to live our lives and manage our organizations
with little regard for the subjectiveness of external reality. The word
reality is derived from the Latin words for think (revi) and thing (res).
Reality, or at least our individual experience of it, is directly related
to those things we think about. WBA Fellow Gary Zukav summed it up well
in his classic book The Dancing Wu Li Masters. He writes:
is what we take to be true. What we take to be true is what we believe.
What we believe is based upon our perceptions. What we perceive depends
upon what we look for. What we look for depends on what we think.
What we think depends on what we perceive. What we perceive determines
what we believe. What we believe determines what we take to be true.
What we take to be true is our reality. (1)
our beliefs reinforce our perceptions and our perceptions reinforce our
beliefs. Consequently, we stay stuck in an on-going cycle of repetitiveness,
seeing the world as we have always seen it and living our lives within
a very narrow band of possibility, not because life is limited, but because
perceptions always are. Unfortunately, it is often difficult to change
our perceptions. They are learned early and they are controlled primarily
at an unconscious level of awareness. However, we can learn to become
more aware of our intentions and as we learn to change our intentions,
our perceptions shift accordingly.
of Chicago psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi believes that intention
is the psychological process with which we construct reality. Our intentions
cause us to pay attention to certain stimuli while totally ignoring a
plethora of other perceptual possibilities. The skill of Quantum Seeing
enables us to consciously select our intentions, thus aligning our perceptions
with our desires. For example, if we set a clear intention to improve
our health, we will begin to notice (attend to) information that we normally
would not have perceived. We may begin to read the labels on the food
we purchase. We may begin to notice the local health club ads, or we may
suddenly see available space on our calendar for daily exercise. This
information was, of course, already available to us. It was, however,
perceptually ignored until we made a conscious intention that shifted
our attention. Clear intention serves as a magnifying glass. It gives
us a new lens through which we can make new perceptual choices–choices
we otherwise would have missed.
imagine how different the workplace (and the world) would be if we were
all able to create intentionally, fully conscious of the role that intention
plays in all that we see and experience? Well known techniques like affirmations,
dream boards and mind maps can serve as reminders of our intentions. As
we use these verbal and visual aids, we become increasingly more conscious
of our intentions and our attention spontaneously follows. At the organizational
level, this skill reminds us of the need to have all stakeholders involved
in visioning and planning processes. If employees are not involved, they
are likely to be perceptually incapable of seeing and, hence, of creating
new possibilities. Instead, they remain stuck in their current mindsets,
unable to make the perceptual choices required for successful execution.
skill, Quantum Thinking, is derived from quantum physics research
which suggests that the universe often functions in illogical, paradoxical
ways. The most obvious quantum paradox is that the visible, three-dimensional
world is composed solely of invisible energy. Furthermore, this energy
makes sudden, totally unpredictable quantum leaps, tunneling through barriers
in ways that are both illogical and impossible at the macro level of reality.
For example, microscopic electrons are able to tunnel through energy barriers
that macroscopic objects would be unable to penetrate. This is not only
irrational; it is a major paradox, since the electron on its way through
the barrier has negative kinetic energy–a classical absurdity. Quantum
tunneling is totally illogical; yet it is the basis of the Josephson junction,
a key process in superconductivity. Josephson junctions operate as extremely
fast switching devices. They are a key design feature in a highly sensitive
measuring instrument called a SQUID (superconducting quantum interference
device). Because of the highly illogical quantum tunneling effect, physicians
can now identify minute abnormalities within the human brain. Illogical
processes can result in highly practical applications.
many of us still rely primarily on logical, linear, black-and-white thinking
skills. U.C. Berkeley psychologist Eleanor Rosch believes that our obsession
with binary thinking originates in the structure of the brain. Over the
centuries the human brain has added layers, evolving from the early reptilian,
to the limbic, to the much more recent neocortex (outer layer of the brain).
The two lower brain centers are actually incapable of conceptualizing
multiple options. So even though the neocortex can create and choose among
unlimited options, much of the time we still operate out of our lower
brain centers, categorizing and organizing information with minimal cognitive
effort. Our logical, linear educational systems and our either-or workplaces
reinforce this neurological propensity. Consequently most of us demonstrate
less than ten percent of the creativity of a typical five-year-old.
enter the twenty-first century, it is apparent that our logical, rational,
binary thought processes are inadequate. Logical thinking has made little
headway in solving the enormous problems facing the world and its organizations.
After all, many of our organizational issues are paradoxical, both/and
questions that cannot be answered by rational, binary thinking. For example,
how can we balance responsibility to stockholders with responsibility
to employees, customers, and the environment? How can we hit short-term
targets and maintain a long-term focus? Or, how do we decrease errors
and improve speed? The ability to think paradoxically might be the key
to creating highly innovative solutions to these questions and a myriad
of other twenty-first century organizational challenges.
to think paradoxically we must awaken the capacities of the right hemisphere
of the brain–this side of the brain thinks in images, not words and is,
therefore, not bound by verbal language and logic. The right brain can
gather up seemingly unrelated ideas and arrange them into highly creative
idea constellations, thereby bypassing the left brain’s propensity for
binary thinking. The right brain has another important creative advantage.
It can process millions of visual images in microseconds, thereby solving
problems exponentially faster than the clock-bound left hemisphere. Each
time we choose to visualize versus think in words, we literally disconnect
from the linear passage of time. Thus, through the process of imagistic
thinking we escape the tyranny of time and enter a realm where seemingly
opposite options can effortlessly superimpose themselves into highly creative
solutions. The skill of Quantum Thinking provides an on-going stream of
highly innovative, often illogical ideas that help us transcend the box
of binary thinking. Our ability to thrive, and perhaps survive, demands
that we learn to use this skill.
skill, Quantum Feeling, is based on the premise that we, as human
beings, are composed of the same energy as the rest of the universe and
are, therefore, subject to universal laws of energy excitation. Recent
research at the Institute of HeartMath suggests that the human heart is
a primary source of power for the mind-body system. The heart generates
the strongest electromagnetic signal in the human body and the power of
that signal is primarily a function of thoughts and emotions. Negative
emotions (e.g. frustration, fear, anger, or stress) decrease coherence
in the heart’s electromagnetic waves, causing the mind-body system to
lose energy. Positive emotions (e.g. love, caring, compassion, and appreciation)
increase coherence, thus increasing energy.
research confirms what we already know intuitively. Negative emotions
exhaust us and positive emotions energize. Knowing this to be true does
not, however, solve the pervasive epidemic of stress and burnout that
is sweeping this country. Fast-paced schedules drain our energy. Stress-filled
jobs exhaust us. We desire health and vitality, but, too often, we experience
tiredness and dis-ease. The skill of Quantum Feeling enables us to feel
good internally, regardless of what happens externally. As we practice
this skill we learn how to change the physics of our bodies by changing
the feelings of our hearts. We become increasingly aware of the perceptual
choice point between every external stimulus and subsequent internal response
and we begin to recognize that our energy is never depleted by other people
or events but rather by our perceptual choices.
of HeartMath research suggests that we can maintain high levels of energy
and vitality simply by choosing to focus on the positive aspects of all
the events in our lives. Seeing "negative" events from a positive perspective
does require us to think paradoxically. If we suddenly find ourselves
without work, it is only logical to catastrophize. However, if we do so,
we will only see those perceptual clues that support our negative thinking.
We’ll see our bills accumulating. We’ll see a tight job market. We’ll
see unemployed people every where we turn. On the other hand, if we can
view the situation in an "irrational way," seeing it with appreciation,
we will begin to see the hidden blessings. As we focus on the positive
aspects, our heart’s electromagnetic waves become coherent and the brain’s
waves spontaneously follow (physicists call this entrainment). From this
more coherent state of mind, we see opportunities that we would have missed
had we remained stuck in negativity. The opportunities would have been
there all along; our emotionally-induced cognitive incoherence simply
made them perceptually unavailable to us.
each of us learns how to create high energy lives, organizational change
programs will make no real difference in either productivity or job satisfaction.
Workplace redesign efforts and empowerment processes are necessary but
not sufficient. It’s the new-wine-in-old-wineskins phenomenon or, in more
contemporary language, the second-marriage-same-spouse syndrome. Without
an internal shift in consciousness and a new set of emotional choice skills,
we keep re-creating the old patterns in our lives, regardless of the new
opportunities available to us. The skill of Quantum Feeling enables us
to change the constructs of our minds. Think of the impact such a skill
would have on issues such as motivation, burnout, stress and job satisfaction.
Imagine how organizational life might change if we released our collective
dependence on external rewards and each took full responsibility for bringing
purpose, passion and vitality to our work.
skill, Quantum Knowing, is derived from quantum field theory. Energy
fields are, in the language of physics, the ground state of all that is.
Einstein once commented that "fields are the only reality." The universe
is not filled with energy fields; rather, the universe emerges out of
an underlying quantum field. This underlying sea of potential appears
to be infinite, omnipresent and omnipotent. It is both indescribable and
incalculable. The quantum field is believed to contain Bose-Einstein condensates
which are the most highly ordered and highly unified structure yet found
in the universe. Physicist Danah Zohar is one of a growing number of scientists
who believe that Bose-Einstein processes in the brain may create the neurological
structures that are prerequisite to human consciousness. If subsequent
research validates a relationship between Bose-Einstein condensates and
consciousness, it will lend support to the hypothesis that the quantum
field itself is conscious. Consciousness, therefore, may not be a function
of evolutionary sophistication, but instead may be the primary substance
of physical reality. Nobel laureate George Wald explains:
rather than emerging as a late outgrowth in the evolution of life, has
existed always as the matrix, the source and condition of physical reality…the
stuff of which physical reality is composed is mind-stuff. It is mind
that has composed physical universe that breeds life, and so eventually
evolves creatures that know and create. (2)
is basically a set of signals or a field of information. It is much more
like a Great Thought than the Great Machine metaphor of the Newtonian
paradigm. Quantum Knowing is the ability to connect in non-sensory ways
with information in this quantum field of potentiality. William James
used the Greek word noetic to describe the process of direct knowing–knowing
without sensory input. WBA Fellow Jean Houston explains this ability by
using the metaphor of superconductivity. She writes:
most electrical flow systems there is a resistance, analogous to a turned-on
light bulb impeding the flow of current, which creates the practical
uses for the electrical current. But in superconductive states the electrons
can flow unimpeded in perpetual motion through a flow loop. This may
be what is happening in the experience of deep meditation: neurons become
superconductive flow systems, phase-coherent with other neurons by virtue
of quantum tunneling. Resistance is overcome, the usual kinds of perceptual
and psychological lenses are no longer operative, and the brain becomes
a very different instrument, one that is available to receive messages
from the primary reality. (3)
superconductive state, our ability to access previously unknown information
soars. We discover a capacity for wisdom that may be infinite. We become
one with the quantum field. Can you imagine an organization filled with
people who know how to intuitively access the cosmic database? Research
suggests that the majority of CEOs do acknowledge a strong reliance on
intuition, but few of them make their intuitive abilities public and even
fewer attempt to propagate and integrate intuitive knowing into daily
organizational practices. However, as we approach the twenty-first century,
the overwhelming amount of available data mandates new ways of knowing.
There is simply too much information to process in traditional, analytical
Langer, professor of psychology at Harvard University, has developed a
theory of mindful decision making. Langer’s research suggests that gathering
information does not necessarily lead to better decisions. In fact, she
thinks that organizations are focused on an impossible goal–reducing uncertainty
through data collection. This is futile because even the amount of information
that could be gathered about the simplest of decisions such as buying
a copier or selecting a supplier can involve limitless research. Rather
than focusing on gathering information, Langer’s theory focuses on staying
aware (mindfulness). She points out that a belief in certainty is actually
a huge disadvantage. Certainty leads to mindlessness. When we are certain
we cease to pay attention. On the other hand, uncertainty keeps us attentive
both to the world outside of us and to our internal intuitions. Mindfulness
keeps our connection to the quantum field of infinite information open.
begin to incorporate the space for mindfulness into our daily work routines,
we will create whole-brain organizations–organizations that fully utilize
both sides of the brain, valuing intuitive knowing as much as rational
analysis. Someday we will look back at concepts such as empowerment or
open book management with amusement. After all, how can one person empower
another if we all have access to the same cosmic database? As more and
more of us learn to use the skill of Quantum Knowing, we will create true
learning organizations–organizations in which all the stakeholders deeply
value learning from the inside out.
skill, Quantum Acting, is premised on the quantum mechanical concept
of interconnectivity and its byproduct, nonlocal causation. At the subatomic
level two systems once connected remain connected, even across great distances
of time and space. Any measurement of one of these systems affects the
second system instantaneously. These complex "from a distance" interactions
are explained by a uniquely quantum principle, the principle of nonseparability,
which violates the most basic principle of relatively–nothing can travel
faster than the speed of light.
though Einstein never accepted the principle of nonseparability, today
this principle is a fundamental concept in quantum theory. Its technological
applications will soon create quantum computers in which all the components
respond instantaneously to a change in the state of one component. The
potential capacity of quantum computers is mind-boggling. They will be
capable of performing all possible computations simultaneously (quantum
parallelism). Strings of hydrogen atoms will hold bits of information
rather than arrays of transistors. Atomic encoding will enable a quantum
computer to simulate the behavior of any quantum system using quantum
processes such as superimposition and nonlocal correlation. According
to a recent Scientific American article, "a 40-bit quantum computer
could re-create in little more than, say, 100 steps, a quantum system
that would take a classical computer, having a trillion bits, years to
at a distance (nonlocal causation) is about to transform life as we know
it through astounding technological advances; but more importantly, this
same principle has the potential to shift our view of ourselves and our
relationship to each other and to the universe. Gribbin explains why:
[research studies] tell us that particles that were once together in
an interaction remain in some sense parts of a single system, which
responds together to further interactions. Virtually everything we see
and touch and feel is made up of collections of particles that have
been involved in interactions with others right back through time, to
the Big Bang in which the universe as we know it came into being. The
atoms in my body are made of particles that once jostled in close proximity
in the cosmic fireball with particles that are now part of a distant
star, and particles that form the body of some living creature on some
distant, undiscovered planet. Indeed, the particles that make up my
body once jostled in close proximity and interacted with the particles
that make up your body. (5)
in the universe is a part of a correlated, complex whole in which each
part influences and is influenced by every other part. Quantum Acting
is the ability to act with concern for the whole–the whole self, the whole
society, and the whole planet. We use this skill to design lives of impeccable
action; lives that focus on intentions that are good for both self and
for the larger system. Using the skill of Quantum Acting means that we
choose to make responsible choices. A life of responsible choice mandates
a commitment to making our choices ever more conscious. Each conscious
choice that we make not only influences the probability of our future
choices; it also, because of our quantum interconnectedness, affects everyone
else’s future choices as well. Thus, we design our lives and our workplaces
one choice at a time. When we choose acts of kindness, compassion, or
integrity, we are, in the words of Danah Zohar, "loading the quantum dice,"
and increasing the probability that others will choose to act accordingly.
Each of our individual selves is in nonlocal correlation with every other
self, and each of our decisions influence the entire system.
principle of nonseparability puts a new spin on social responsibility.
If everything in the universe is intricately interconnected, what we do
has to in some way affect us, the doers. Therefore, if we want prosperity
in our lives or in our organizations, we begin by giving generously. In
a correlated universe, the more we give, the more we receive. Our so-called
socially responsible behaviors (e.g., treating all stakeholders respectfully
or taking good care of environmental resources) are in actuality merely
common sense. As we begin to use the skill of Quantum Acting, we discover
that our organizations can, indeed, do well while also doing good.
skill, Quantum Trusting, is derived from chaos theory. Chaos theory
provides us with a new way of viewing change and the turbulence that accompanies
it. This theory demonstrates that chaos is inherent in the evolutionary
process. It is the catalyst that creates the disequilibrium necessary
for system evolution. Chaos is the progenitor of all progress. Without
the chaos of change, life stagnates and entropy ensues.
Prize winning chemist Ilya Prigogine was the first to point out the positive
role that chaos plays in the universe. Prigogene acknowledges that not
all chaos leads to evolution and differentiates between active and passive
chaos. Passive chaos occurs when a closed system reaches equilibrium and
its elements move around in a random fashion. Active chaos occurs in an
open system that is in a state of disequibrium. In such a system, environmental
feedback serves as a catalyst, disrupting the system and moving that system
to higher levels of order and coherency.
new direction appears to be the result of chance and uncertainty. However,
a growing number of scientists believe that an invisible ordering principle
is at work. David Bohm’s concept of subatomic particles with "quantum
potential" suggests that directions received from the primary order, the
quantum field, influence an electron’s behavior at a bifurcation point.
Bohm acknowledges that this potential has such complexity that any attempts
at prediction are futile. Our inability to make predictions does not mean
that a system’s evolution is totally random. It simple means that it cannot
concept of an invisible ordering principle applies to the subatomic world
of quantum phenomena. Chaos theory, based on classical physics and applicable
to the macroscopic world, has a similar concept, the strange attractor.
This is a computer term used to trace the evolution of a chaotic system.
As chaos theory would predict, a computerized system in chaos behaves
in a totally unpredictable manner. However, over the course of time, even
the most chaotic systems never go beyond certain phase space boundaries,
the boundary of the strange attractor.
attractors provide visual images of a world in which structure emerges
out of chaos. Structured chaos is a remarkable paradox. It suggests that
we live in a universe that is both orderly and chaotic, a world that displays
structure without clockwork regularity–potentiality without predictability.
WBA Fellow Meg Wheatley and Myron Kellner-Rogers in their thought-provoking
book, a simpler way, reflect on what this might mean for us as
human beings. They write: "If order is for free, we don’t have to be the
organizers. We don’t have to design the world. We don’t have to structure
existence…Organization wants to happen." (6)
of us, these ideas are deeply appealing. We are exhausted from our attempts
to predict and control. We suspect that there really is a simpler way.
Yet, we continuously find ourselves face-to-face with the ego’s fears.
Quantum Trusting is the ability to trust life’s process. This skill enables
us to ride the rapids of change, fully participating in the adventure
without attempting to control the course; deeply aware that it’s easiest
to ride a raft in the direction it’s headed. As we use this skill we begin
to focus on the mystery of life, rather than on mastery over it. We become
less intent on manipulating the world and more intent on simply appreciating
it. In other words, we let life happen.
the skill of Quantum Trusting is especially challenging in traditional
workplaces where enormous value is placed on prediction and control. There
are, however, many new organizational processes like Harrison Owen’s Open
Space Technology, which demonstrate in quantifiable ways the ability of
a group of people to quickly self-organize in meaningful and productive
ways. Not only are the outcomes of such meetings impressive, participants
almost always prefer this design to more traditionally structured meeting
Space Technology is only one example of what Dee Hock would call a chaordic
organization. As we individually and collectively begin to use the skill
of Quantum Trusting, many more examples of self-organizing practices will
emerge. Championing these practices requires each of us to confront our
own internal demons of dependency and control. It takes clear intention,
strong commitment, and daily practice to take the road less traveled.
We must be willing to step into the chaotic abyss.
skill, Quantum Being, recognizes the relational nature of the universe.
At the subatomic level, matter comes into being only through relationships.
Subatomic particles are abstractions. Their properties are definable and
observable only through their interactions with other particles. The probabilities
associated with particles are probabilities of relationships. Physics
has not, however, always been viewed as a science of relationships. Newton
saw particles as distinct entities with rigid boundaries, billiard balls
moved around by external forces. Newtonian objects can influence each
other’s external behavior, but they can not change each other’s internal
characteristics. This is not what happens in a quantum relationship where
two particles can actually merge together, sharing boundaries and identities
and becoming a quantum system that is greater than the sum of the two
quantum relationships are prerequisite to human transformation. It is
through relationships that we release our creative potential. When we
approach relationships with openness and vulnerability, a new entity is
created that is greater than the sum of the two individuals. These quantum
encounters provoke unresolved issues and reopen psychological wounds,
thus giving each party the opportunity to learn and heal or deny and project.
As we experience the perceptual transformations that are inherent in quantum
relationships, we begin to understand that our outer realities are but
a projection of our inner beliefs. Quantum relationships are, therefore,
psychological mirrors. In them we can see ourselves reflected. When we
see faults in another, our observations are simply mirroring our own issues,
providing us feedback about unhealed areas of our own psyche.
Being is the ability to be in relationship–a relationship based on unconditional
positive regard. This skill enables us to own our feelings rather than
project them onto others. As we do so, we discover that all of our relationships
are extraordinary learning opportunities. And, we begin to suspect that
none of them occur without reason. We also discover that those who have
the most to teach us are not always our favorite people, but they are
the most valuable contributors to our psychological and spiritual healing.
are to fully integrate the skill of Quantum Being into our organizations,
we must turn our workplace priorities upside down, creating the time and
space for dialogue, trusting that improved relationships will translate
into improved results. In so doing, we will discover that profit is a
byproduct of partnership and we will put away our Newtonian hammers and
become authentic change masters, changing ourselves and our organizations
from the inside out.
Zukav, The Dancing Wu Li Masters: An Overview of the New Physics.
New York: Bantam Books, 1979, p. 310. George
Wald, "Life and Mind in the Universe." International Journal of Quantum
Chemistry; Quantum Biology Symposium, 1984, pp. 1-2. Jean
Houston, The Possible Human: A Course in Extending Your Physical,
Mental, and Creative Abilities. Los Angeles: J.P.Tarcher, 1982,
p. 195. Seth
Lloyd, "Quantum-Mechanical Computers." Scientific American, October
1995, p. 144. John
Gribbin, In Search of Schroedinger’s Cat: Quantum Physics and Reality.
New York: Bantam Books, 1984, p. 229. Margaret
Wheatley and Myron Kellner-Rogers. A simpler way. San Francisco:
Berrett-Koehler, 1996, p. 35.