. In it the author is making a case for revisiting the way that we view organizations and structures, especially in light of new scientific advances. She asserts that we have been using outdated scientific metaphors that are causing more frustration that clarity (locs. 506 & 630). If we are to continue to draw metaphors from the scientific community, we should update those metaphors to include the discoveries and advances since the time of Sir Isaac Newton.
Specifically, Wheately delves into quantum physics, biology, and chemistry to find new, helpful ways to look at how we perceive and interact with organizations and the role of leadership in those organizations. Fundamental to understanding her insights is understanding the role that relationships take in life, both on a macro and a micro level:
Relational issues appear everywhere I look. Ethical and moral questions are no longer fuzzy religious concepts but key elements in the relationship any organization has with colleagues, stakeholders, and communities. At the personal level, many authors write now on our interior relationship with our spirit, soul, and life’s purpose. Ecological writers stress the relationship that exists not only between us and all beings in our environment, but between us and future generations. If the physics of our time is revealing the primacy of relationships, is it any wonder that we are beginning to rethink our major issues in more relational terms? (locs. 444-448)
More and more, science is determining that it is the relationship between things, more than the things themselves, that matter. As opposed to a Newtonian understanding which seeks to reduce things to their most basic components, analyze them, and then put them back together, the new science (quantum physics, most notably) seeks to understand how things relate
to one another. This is especially interesting when it comes to subatomic particles, which do not exist
outside of their relationship to one another (loc. 405).
Consider how contrary this is to our “advanced” Western society. We prize autonomy, individuality, and self-reliance as our highest aims. Those who are dependent upon others are seen as weak, lazy, or needy. The American Dream is to start from nothing and, by grit, determination, and hard work, achieve wealth and autonomy.
Wheatley is pointing out that the universe doesn’t operate that way. What is key for overall health and life is relationship. We need to be in relationship. Not only do we need human relationships, but we need to be in healthy relationships with our Creator God, with the earth, with our jobs, with ourselves. Relationships are dynamic, not static. This means that we never “arrive.” We will always be adapting and changing as our relational landscape changes.
The importance of relationships is woven throughout Scripture. Genesis 1:26 says, “God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our own image, after our likeness…'” Even before humanity was called into being, God was in relationship. Christ said that the greatest commandments were to love God and to love others (Matt. 22:36-40). His actions were predicated on his relationship with the Father (see John 5:19 ff.). His prayer was that we would be in him just as he is in the Father (see John 15:1-17 and 17:20-26).
When it comes to organizational leadership, this all requires a significant paradigm shift. We are used to setting up goals that can be measured, progress that can be charted, accountability that can be enforced, and results that can be replicated. Relationships defy such quantification. What might it look like to have as one’s primary job the cultivation of healthy relationships? How can one be supervised toward that end? How do you measure progress and repeat the outcomes? What do you use to understand effectiveness? I’m not sure, but my job allows me the freedom to experiment with these exact questions. Into the lab I go. . .