Quantum Business
By Stanley Bing

(FORTUNE Magazine) – There has been a tremendous amount of interest lately in Albert Einstein, on the event of the 100th anniversary of the publication of his important paper on Brownian motion, which proves the existence of atoms and molecules to my satisfaction, and the first portion of the theory of relativity. Einstein's work also led, inadvertently, to the development of what is known as quantum mechanics, a branch of physics that teaches us that the universe at its most basic level makes no sense whatsoever, a concept necessary to understanding the nature of everything, including business. Perhaps that most of all.

We people in organization-land are fascinated with science, I think, because we seek to minimize the feeling that our world is governed not by laws of nature but by mad, impetuous barbarians driven by greed, need, and the desire for maximum power and booty. In such a cosmos the stately dance of physical science is reassuring. That's why you need to know about this stuff. The good news is that the same rules and laws that govern the macro and micro universe apply to us when we're suited up and ready for Freddy.

Let's begin with that Brownian motion jazz. I'm not going to bore you with a lot of detail that would expose the shallowness of my knowledge, but the bottom line is that until Einstein came along, people couldn't explain why teensy motes in some kind of goo seemed to be dancing around for no apparent reason when viewed under a microscope. What Einstein figured out was that these guys were moving because the invisible particles that they were made of were bumping into one another. What could do this? Molecules made up of atoms, that's what.

In our cosmos, it's much the same. Just read any issue of this magazine. Companies churn and jiggle around in the economic broth, dancing, attracting, and repelling one another. This movement appears to be without form or sense--until you realize that every company, no matter how small, is made up of people, people made of different stuff, bumping into each other, ego by ego, circling other tiny people--just like molecules!

Right after Brownian motion, over a plate of Linzer tortes celebrating the last haircut he would ever have, Einstein came up with the equation that changed everything except his hat size, which, I assume, was very large indeed. This equation is as well known as the lyrics to "Wooly Bully": E=mc .

That is, the energy in an object and its mass are related to each other, and then ... something having to do with the speed of light. To put it another way, a tiny bit of mass, moving fast enough, has a lot of energy. Now let's put it in terms that even you and I can understand.

Your Personal Energy (E) = Money You Earn (m) times the number of communications you have in a day, squared. In the case of a successful careerist like, say, Jennifer Lopez, the equation would look like this:

J. Lo's Personal Energy = $1 billion x 3767.4, assuming that people are always coming in and out of her office asking her for things or just to look at her. This gives us a number just south of four trillion. That's a lot of energy, particularly when exploded in a bomb, as demonstrated by the movie Gigli.

If you look at, say, Michael Eisner, the number comes out differently. Sure, his (m) is very high, in the hundreds of millions, I would guess. But right now the only meeting the guy can get is with his tailor and possibly Roy Disney, which is one he'd probably like to avoid. Hence, an estimated Personal E of less than zero.

In about 1920, physicists drawing on some of Einstein's vapors determined that any true insight into the laws of the macrosphere meant acquiring a grasp of the forces that rule the microsphere. Thus quantum physics was born to explain the behavior of things the size of Paris Hilton's Chihuahua and even smaller.

Anyone attempting to understand quantum physics comes face to face with the fact that it is almost pure nonsense. Things exist and don't exist at the same time. Stuff both happens and doesn't happen simultaneously. Matter is a wave. Light is a particle.

But here again, science can help give us insight into things that matter. Central to quantum physics is the uncertainty theory, first espoused by Werner Heisenberg. The idea is that the more one knows about an object's exact position, the less one can say for sure about its momentum, and vice versa.

What does this mean for us? That it's a good idea, if you want to keep your professional momentum, for nobody to know exactly where you are. This may be accomplished by cellphones, BlackBerry usage, and business travel.

We don't have time for a lot more science right now. Or is it space? Either way, hey, it's all relative.