Organization and the Wave Particle Duality
Published on: Aug 22, 2017


In this section we explore further the semblance of the Quantum world with the established and stable organization. An organization expands into a big stable giant, only if it has the right portfolios of products and services (What) which is aligned with its Core value/Vision (Why); any tilt increases the probability of destabilizing the company. Likewise, in the sub-atomic world, the chances of instability in nucleus increase if the ratio of neutron and proton deviates from 1:1. The Strong Force binds the neutron and proton only till certain limit of healthy ratio; beyond which we see radioactive delay.

  de Broglie‘s “wave-particle duality”

As the org expands and stabilizes, there are different roles and positions created and filled to effectively manage the organization. This expansion follows the same pattern as the shells of the electrons. The positions of higher accountability are nearest to the core and progress outwards in the descending order.

On certain occasions, people occupying each of these positions (e.g. Project Manager, Department Head etc.) are expected to exhibit behavior/act according to their designated role. And on other occasions, these people come across as embodiment of ideas, sentiments and opinions on many a topic. And share and propagate the ideas/opinions across to many other individuals.

Does not it strike a resemblance to the de Broglie‘s “wave-particle duality” of quantum physics?

Sub-atomic matter sometimes behaves as particle (characterized by its individualistic position in space); and sometimes as wave (flow of energy through space). Some quantum behaviors like Photoelectric Effect are best explained assuming photon and electron as particles. And others like diffraction need wave theory to explain. Similarly, sometimes a person's actions are guided by his/her expected stance based on the organizational role (particle behavior). And at other times people behavior is best explained by “wave theory” as a flow of idea/sentiments across individuals, e.g. team brainstorming. On many a subject or policy matters, people of similar ideas and opinions shed their individual positions and flock together as a cohesive collective entity. In this case they exhibit the properties of wave. Individual positions sublimate into the collective idea flow.

Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle

The fact that matters behave like both wave and particle at the same time, gave birth to the famous “Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle”. This principle states that there is a fundamental limit to how well you can simultaneously know the position and momentum of a quantum particle.

Δ p*Δx >=Δ/2; or Δ Momentum× Δ Position >= Constant;

The above inequality states that if you try to accurately measure the momentum, the uncertainty in measurement of position increases and vice-versa. It is not possible to accurately measure both position (particle nature) and momentum (wave nature) simultaneously.

How is “Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle” relevant to Organization theory?

Hypothesizing below relationship:

  • Particle behavior ~= Individual designated role play ~= Position
  • Wave-like behavior ~= Collective Ideas flow ~= Momentum

In the organization, every individual displays duality of the particle behavior (position orientation) and wave behavior (idea and people orientation). When one tries to exhibit the action/behavior precise for his/her role and position, then there is higher uncertainty in assessing his/her individual opinions and sentiments on other subjects and issues of people’s interest. Likewise, when people share their opinions with others more openly; the uncertainty of assessing their official stance increases.

    The people in the inner circle closer to the core (company board) display more of the particle behavior, exhibiting actions apt for their position. Moving outwards in the organizational hierarchy, more of free idea sharing can be seen than the position based expected behavior.

Curiosity kills the Schrodinger's cat


In the face of the changing times, the organizational decisions, from strategy to regular tactics have become very dynamic. Whether its merger/acquisition or organizational restructuring or any new initiative, there is always something or the other on the cards with multiple options and variables at play. The management is always working on the possible permutations and combinations on multiple fronts. Given the situation, the employees are also constantly busy with gathering the news, analysis, speculations and rumors on what's happening next and what is in store for them.

I am sure, all of us in the corporate world can relate to the statements above. But how are these related to Quantum Physics and the Schrödinger's Cat? Well for this, let us pay a small visit to the Quantum world of tiny sub-atomic particles.

The quantum world is very fascinating and seemingly weird, where event happens only when someone observes it. If there is no observer (measurement), the particle properties (position, energy, velocity...) are superposition of all its possible states as defined by the Schrodinger wave function. Only when one of these properties is measured, then the wave function collapses into just one specific value.

This point is easily explained by the "Thought Experiment" named Schrödinger's Cat.

Schrodinger proposed a theoretical experiment in which a cat was put in a steel box with a vial of hydrocyanic acid along with a tiny amount of a radioactive substance. If just one atom of this decayed during the test period, it would trigger a sequence in which a hammer would break the vial and kill the cat. As long as the box stayed closed, you wouldn't know whether this had happened or not, so according to quantum law and the superposition of states, the cat is both alive and dead at one and the same time. It's only when you take a measurement, ie look in the box, that the superposition ceases to be and the cat is either alive or dead. The fact is that observation (=measurement) affects the outcome, so the outcome doesn't exist until the measurement is made.

Coming back to the organizational decisions; these are also like the Schrödinger's wave functions with superposition of so many options with their varied probability.

  • Is our company going for acquisition or getting acquired?
  • Is the CXO/VP/Director getting changed? Is the re-org up the sleeves?
  • Will the new product kick-off?

The answer to these questions is both YES and NO till disclosure; upon which it collapses to one particular state of either YES or NO. For that matter, the answer remains "both YES and NO" even if the question has not come to one's mind. The cat is both DEAD and ALIVE. Only after one is privy to the information, that the wave function collapses to a definite value.

In the chain of information flow across multiple management levels, the wave function sequentially collapses to a definite outcome for each level. Once it reaches to your level, the definite decision will be known to you, till then it is superposition of all the options with varied probabilities. This means that any event has not yet happened for you, till it is observed by you. It is the curiosity that kills the cat. So why speculate and worry; let the cat be both ALIVE and DEAD. Ever imagined that the events are so personalized?


1. Quantum Physics: A trusted guide for a growing organization

2. Organization and the Wave Particle Duality

3. Radioactive Metamorphosis of Organizations

About the author

Saurav Srivastava



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