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Remember the last time you bought a brand new car? Think back and remember how wonderfully solid it felt. If you’ve ever driven an old car that rattled and squeaked and made all sorts of random noises, you could really appreciate that new car. It had not yet yielded to the relentless attack of the forces of something called entropy.

No, it’s not a new disease of the colon. The first dictionary entry for entropy reads, “a measure of a system’s capacity to undergo spontaneous change.” The second entry is “a measure of the disorder or randomness in a system.” Eventually, every machine will wear out and quit working. As parts wear, the movement becomes more and more random and disorderly until the machine stops altogether. That is a state of total entropy. In the case of our old car, it was friction and the wear and tear of daily driving that brought about an advanced degree of entropy.

“An employee who perceives his job as stale and stagnant will fall more readily into entropy. The trick is to not let the employee’s job get stale.”

So what does this have to do with profitably running a collision repair business? Over the years, I’ve unfortunately had many opportunities to watch entropy at work in employees. When they first come on the job, they’re eager to please and they show off their best skills and best behavior. But as time goes on, the friction and wear and tear of daily repetitive job activities begins to approximate the entropy in the old car. Elements of disorder and randomness begin to creep in and productivity begins to decline.

Entropy in general applies to all people. We all experience friction and wear and tear. And ultimately, in the long run, we run down and stop working. But in the short term we have an advantage over machines, thanks to the work of Nobel prize winner Ilya Prigogine, a Russian-born Belgian theoretical chemist. He received his Nobel Prize in the 1970s for proving that increased order and evolutionary progress come about because of the entropy of chaos and disorder; not despite it.

Prigogine’s work demonstrated that no organism, system or organization ever makes a major evolutionary jump to a structurally stronger form without first being pushed to the top end of its tolerance level for chaos and entropy. In other words evolution is unlikely until someone reaches the point of overwhelm where they run screaming from the room.

So you and your employees will only improve if you succeed in restructuring to survive each potentially overwhelming crisis. Prigogine says living creatures have an ability that inanimate machines lack: the ability to dissipate the pressures that cause entropy. An open system, like most human organisms (I say “most” because I know a few who were so closed, they may not qualify—but I digress) are able to dissipate or throw off the forces of entropy and thus adjust, shift, change and possibly actually evolve.

So you and your employees will only evolve or improve if you succeed in restructuring to survive each crisis. For example, a typical way of dissipating anger is by venting it: “letting off steam,” kicking the wall, or banging a shoe on the table. On more rational days, we dissipate frictions by conflict resolution discussions, negotiations and agreements. And we seek to dissipate frustration by becoming more able, learning new skills, and increasing our education.

As an employer, you may often be in the position of having to help dissipate pressure, friction and the entropy that has been building up in employees who were unable to do it themselves. However, if you wait until pressure has built up to the blowing point, it may be too late to head off a meltdown. A better approach is keeping alert to small indications that entropy is building up in an employee. Companies that schedule periodic reviews and trainings often handle this automatically, but a typical collision repair center is less likely to plan a periodical “reboot” to put employees back in the energetic start-up mode.

The benefits of heading off friction and the slide into disorder and randomness may be more significant than you would imagine. Tom Peters, management guru and author of The Pursuit of Wow! says, “Staleness always stalks us.” An employee who perceives his job as stale and stagnant will fall more readily into entropy. The trick is to not let the employee’s job get stale. In the collision industry, technology is always evolving to keep up with new vehicle designs and materials. If an employer succeeds in firing up a technician’s interest in mastering this new technology, keeping that start-up mentality might not be so difficult.


Tom Franklin, author of Strategies for Greater Body Shop Growth, has been a sales and marketing consultant for more than 40 years.

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