Leadership& New ScienceWheatley, Margaret J. Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World. 3rd ed. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler, 2006.

The Author

WheatleyMargaret Wheatley earned a Ed.D. From Harvard’s program in Administration, Planning, and Social Policy with a focus on organizational behavior and change. Her masters in from New York University in systems thinking. She began in education, both in teaching and administration, and now works as a consultant and speaker with all types of organizations and people. She is a co-founder and the president emerita of the The Berkana Institute, a global charitable foundation founded in 1991.[1]

This Keynote Address summarizes her arguments well – Wheatley-Chaos-and-Complexity

My Thoughts

This book contributes greatly to my research in that it provides scientific language for the concepts of relationality, indwelling, perichoresis, and social Trinity that I am pursuing. Wheatley explores three areas of the new sciences—quantum physics, self-organizing systems, and chaos theory—and applies them to the study of organizational theory and leadership.

The argument of the book is set in contrast to Newtonian physics and a mechanistic structure of the universe. Newtonian physics perceived the universe as a closed system that was subject to the Second Law of Thermodynamics. This law states that all systems eventually run out of energy and die. The new sciences claim that the universe is not a mechanistic, closed system. Rather, the universe is a dynamic, living, open system that is constituted by the interrelationship of its parts. The space between parts is not the cold, lonely void of the Newtonian construct, but is vibrant and filled with fields of invisible energy that influence the movement of the parts and create positive feedback loops that allow new information to form and reform the whole system in a perpetual re-creative process.

The leadership of organizations should, according to Wheatley, be aware of the wholistic, self-organization nature of systems thinking and empower the organizations toward creativity and freedom. With communally held values acting as fractals with the organization, the principle of chaos theory will bring order out of apparent chaos through the process of free-flowing communication and a vision of love and co-creation.

Wheatley summarizes her findings in this way:

“I believe in my bones that the movement towards participation is rooted in our changing perceptions of the organizing principles of life. Everywhere in the new sciences, in living systems theory, quantum physics, chaos and complexity theory, we observe life’s dependence on participation. All life participates in the creation of itself, insisting on the freedom to self-determine. All life participates actively with its environment in the process of co-adaptation and co-evolution. No subatomic particle exists independent of its participation with other particles. And even reality is evoked through acts of participation between what we choose to notice.”[2]


  1. Discovering an Orderly World
  2. Newtonian Organizations in a Quantum Age
  3. Space is Not Empty: Invisible Fields That Shape Behavior
  4. The Participative Nature of the Universe
  5. Change, Stability, and Renewal: The Paradoxes of Self-Organizing Systems
  6. The Creative Energy of the Universe—Information
  7. Chaos and the Strange Attractor of Meaning
  8. Change: The Capacity of Life

9. The New Scientific Management

Three Areas covered in this book:

  • Quantum physics
  • Self-organizing systems
  • Chaos theory

Important Shifts

  1. We cannot look at a system by looking at its parts. We must think in terms of the whole system.
  2. We must rethink our ideas of organizing dynamics in a living system, not entropy in a closed system.
  3. We must look at the invisible rather than the visible; at the processes that gave birth to the things in an organization.

Important Quotes

“In the quantum world, relationship is the key determiner of everything…there is increasing support for his [James Lovelock] hypothesis that the earth is a self-regulating system, a planetary community of interdependent systems that together create the conditions which make life possible.”[3]


“Life is about creation. This ability of life to create itself is captured in a strange-sounding new word, autopoiesis.”[4]


“The things we fear most in organizations—disruptions, confusion, chaos—need not be interpreted as signs that we are about to be destroyed. Instead, these conditions are necessary to awaken creativity.”[5]


“Even organizational power is purely relational…Because power is energy, it needs to flow through organizations…The learning for all of us seems clear. If power is the capacity generated by our relationships, then we need to be attending to the quality of these relationships. We would do well to ponder the realization that love is the most potent source of power.”[6]


“The space that is everywhere, from inside atoms to the cosmos, is more like this ocean, filled with fields that exert influence and bring matter into form.”[7]


“If vision is a field, think about what we could do differently to use its formative influence. We would start by recognizing that in creating a vision, we are creating a power, not a place, an influence, not a destination.”[8]


“S-matrices stretch my thinking even more because they demand that I stop thinking of roles or people as fixed entities. They lead me into the world of ‘nothing,’ where who you are depends on who you meet…Roles mean nothing without understanding the network of relationships and the resources that are required to support the work of that person.”[9]


[my thoughts on the above quote] This concept has application to the Social Trinity. It is connected to relational ontology. The particularities of the individual parts do not exist without the network of relationships. The Father is not a Father without a Son. The Son cannot bring glory to the Father without a Father to whom glory to to be brought. The Spirit cannot empower without something that needs to be empowered. And so it goes. It is the interconnected dynamic—the indwelling, or perichoresis—that is life itself and from which life perpetually springs forth.


“The Second Law of Thermodynamics applies only to isolated or closed systems—to machines, for example. The most obvious exception to this law is life. Everything alive is an open system that engages with its environment and continues to grow and evolve. Yet both our science and culture have been profoundly affected by the images of degeneration contained in classical thermodynamics.”[10]


“All life lives off-balance in a world that is open to change. And all of life is self-organizing. We do not have to fear disequilibrium, nor do we have to approach change so fearfully. Instead, we can realize that, like all life, we know how to grow and evolve in the midst of constant flux. There is a path through change that leads to greater independence and resiliency. We dance along this path by maintaining a coherent identity and by honoring everybody’s need for self-determination.”[11]


“Closed systems wind down and decay, victims of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The source of life is new information—novelty—ordered into new structures. We need to have information coursing through our systems, disturbing the peace, imbuing everything it touches with the possibility of new life. We need, therefore, to develop new approaches to information—not management but encouragement, not control but genesis. How do we create more of this wonderful life source?”[12]


“Chaos theory studies a particular variety of chaos, known as deterministic chaos. In an interesting way, this branch of science became involved in a debate that had been going on in philosophy and spiritual thought for many centuries. Is this a deterministic world where our lives are predetermined? But if this is true, what about free will? It was this unresolved tension between predictability and freedom that attracted some early scientists of chaos. The science seemed to resolve this argument; it provided and explanation for how freedom functions in an orderly universe,. The shape of the entire system is predictable or predetermined. But how this shape takes form is through individual acts of free agency: ‘The system is deterministic, but you can’t say what it’s going to do next.’ Or as organizational planner T. J. Cartwright puts it, ‘Chaos is order without predictability.’”[13]


“They recall us to the power of simple governing principles: guiding visions, sincere values, organizational beliefs—the few self-referential ideas individuals can use to shape their own behavior. The leader’s task is first to embody these principles, and then to help the organization become the standard it has declared for itself…The leader’s role is not to make sure that people know exactly what to do and when to do it. Instead, leaders need to ensure that there is strong and evolving clarity about who the organization is.”[14]


[1] http://www.margaretwheatley.com/biography.html (accessed August 5, 2013)

[2] Margaret J. Wheatley, Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World, 3rd ed. (San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler, 2006), loc. 2457.

[3] Ibid.,  loc. 397.

[4] Ibid.,  loc. 496.

[5] Ibid.,  loc. 521.

[6] Ibid.,  loc. 791.

[7] Ibid.,  loc. 944.

[8] Ibid.,  loc. 1018.

[9] Ibid.,  loc. 1211-1230.

[10] Ibid.,  loc. 1280.

[11] Ibid.,  loc. 1473.

[12] Ibid.,  loc. 1542.

[13] Ibid.,  loc. 1886.

[14] Ibid.,  loc. 2027.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This