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Newton´s Laws applied to Organizational change

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Newton´s Laws applied to Organizational change


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Newton's Laws of Motion applied to Organizational Change.

This article was published by the PMI® in Spanish language. This is my best effort to translate it into English due to people ask me for that.


First of all I would like to clarify that I am not the first (and I hope I will not be the last) to investigate and publish a working paper on the implementation of the Laws of Physics to the business. Both of the Laws that govern or explain the operation of the Universe on a "macroscopic" scale (Newton and Einstein for example) as that govern or explain the operation or Universe at “microscopic" scale (Quantum). Quantum Theory is very useful to explain and address the work with stakeholders, among other things. However, I will leave that for a possible article later. Today, I am going to write about the answers that the laws stated by Isaac Newton deliver to the problem of dealing with changes in the organizations. In addition, I am going to write about my personal experience trying to give a practical use, which I hope, will help someone else out there. This is one of the topics I am investigating since the year 1986 by presenting papers at international conferences and interacting in forums with well-known physicists and philosophers. My only goal in writing this article is to inform that the explanation about great challenges organization are facing when they start initiatives to change exists for centuries in the works of physicists and philosophers. It would be a great personal satisfaction if after reading the article people also believe in using the Laws of Newton in his advantage, even for his own adaptation, when faced with the need for change. A need that generates a problem situation to resolve and that, without a doubt, to understand the problem and to start out on the path of the solution, Sir Isaac Newton provided us with the tools several centuries ago. 

The reasons for the change.

Change is inevitable, continuous and permanent. The world in this new millennium is defined by "the permanence of change". This permanent change is a regular feature and not a simple situation between two moments of stability. Structural changes in the world economy, constant appearance of new technologies, changing global context creates new opportunities for organizations but also new risks to face. If we consider an organization as a social system (composed of people, carried out exchanges with its environment) and adaptable (modifies its components and relationships when its environment changes) whose purpose is to survive, grow and develop, we can understand that organizations are facing problem situations to solve constantly that are generated by the need of change. [Bertalanffy 1968]  

It is interesting (at least to me) that when the modified system (the organization) is introduced into the environment, this generates new environmental changes and therefore the cycle restarts. Years ago, I published in Official Journals of the PMI® Global an article about how the Laws of Lehman of the Evolution of Software [Lehman, 1989] can be seamlessly applied to the world of business to explain this continuous change and the cycle associated with it. 

Without a doubt, any change must be in accordance with the strategy. Strategy is the integrated and coherent set of actions designed with the objective of adapting the organization to the competitive environment and future. Not only to react to the change in the environment. Organizations should anticipate before the change in the environment occurs by adapting its component parts. This vision implies that the environment influences the life of the organization but at the same time, the organization can influence the life of the environment by modifying it according to their needs and objectives. 

Newton's Laws of Motion.

The 5 July 1687 at the behest of his friend, Edmond Halley (yes, the famous discovered of the comet) Newton published his work "Philosophioe Naturalis Principia Mathematica" composed of three books. The work contains the fundamentals of physics and astronomy written in the language of pure geometry and within them are the famous three laws that explain the movement of everything that is in the Universe. Below are the laws translated taken from the original work and an explanation to understand what is needed to apply them to the business world (please those who know physics let me this license). These are:

1. First Law (also known as the Law of Inertia): “Every object persists in its state of rest or uniform motion unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed on it”. All those who travel by any means of transport, suppose a car, experience the situation that occurs when this means of transportation brake suddenly. Our body, composed of a quantity of matter that we call Mass (m)[1] continues to move in the direction it brings (and better than we have the safety belt fastened and adjusted, isn´t it?). If the means of transport broke down and we must push it out of its state of rest we all know how expensive is this action due to the intensity of the force (F) that[2] we must use to achieve move it.

2. Second Law (also known as the Fundamental Law of the Dynamics): “The change of motion is directly proportional to the driving force applied and occurs according to the straight line along which that force is applied”. This means that a body (mass m) are always accelerate in the direction as moves if you push it in that direction. Returning to the example of the damaged car we all know that to remove it from rest and then accelerate it (we name it “acceleration, a”) we will need to increase the intensity of the force used or look for associated forces to help us. This can be expressed as follows: F=ma. It means that, if the mass is constant (the car does not change the amount of matter when we move it) then the acceleration (a) that the car acquires when we push it is proportional to the force applied ( F ).

3. Third Law (also known as the Principle of Action and Reaction, my favorite): “With all actions there is always an equal and opposite reaction”. For every action, there is an equal and opposite re-action: it means that the mutual actions of two objects are always equal, and directed in the opposite direction. When we travel in a car with the safety belt fastened and adjusted and the car break suddenly, we all experience the situation for which the safety belt exerts a force (let me call it -F) opposite and in the opposite direction that helps our body does not continue the movement as explained by the First Law. 

Now, how does all this explain the problem of change in organizations? Remember that at the beginning I mentioned that this article would be based on some personal experiences. However, much more it could be written indeed.

Newton's Laws of Motion, an adaptation.

Newton's Laws of Motion accurately explain the behavior we find each time organizations need to change in order to achieve survival, growth and development. Surely there will be  exceptions (I have not actually found them today after more than 30 years working with these issues), but many organizations are in a "uniform state of motion" that need to "break" and without a doubt understanding Newton's Laws we will find the answers to propose strategies in that sense.  Many are aware of this state of uniform or resting motion like BAU or "Business As Usual." It is worth clarifying that I am not against that, as long as it is done consciously from a defined strategy (formal or informal). Even if we use the word "Business" in a very generic way, fine spinning we can consider that an organization can contain several defined businesses and in each one can follow a particular strategy. However, it is very difficult to maintain inertia in today's world. As Sir Charles Darwin wrote, "the strongest, the fastest, the most intelligent not survive. It will survive who are best suited to change" [Darwin 1890]. The organizations' environment lives the era of "the persistence of change" as noted above.

Here comes an adapted version of Newton's Laws to explain what follows (again, those who know physics let me this license) and some proposals for reference taken from my professional experience to use the laws in our benefit. No doubt, there could be others. To choice and use, the organization and its environment must be taking into account because, as my grandmother would say, "Every home is a world". The implementation of "recipes", usually, it does not help to achieve the expected result. 

The first law in action.

Every organization will remain in its course (rest or movement) forever if no new forces act upon it. Some external and / or internal forces will have to operate on the organization to change its state. Going back to the concept of organization as a system, we have the first answer: in the environment, there will always be forces that will move the organization to some state. A derivation of the Laws of Newton is: if before a force a body does not change of state then it will deform or it will be broken. It will only continue at rest if these forces are zero, that is, they do not affect the organization. However, do not they really affect her? That is the first question always.

The first challenge appears here: always be alert to the forces acting on the organization. Even better than reacting to these forces, is to activate them by generating a change in the environment (this is the meaning of “Organizational Agility” [Dove 2001]). It is the big challenge for organizations to decide between being reactive or proactive. Either strategy is valid, but the organization must always be "aware" of the strategy  (we can take a look to quantum physics to explain consciousness).

Strategy is how the organization responds to the stimuli of its environment or generates the stimuli in its environment. In addition, the strategy defines the direction of force because it directs the force in the direction of change. In addition, nothing is generated out of nothing. There are always forces acting. Those forces exist and are present in the Universe as has been demonstrated by the latest research derived from data obtained by the Hubble Telescope.[3]

Agile environments help organizations to be alert and prepared. Nevertheless, Agile applied to the organization as a whole because is how the Agile concept was born as a derivation of the concept applied in Toyota TPS that later was renamed "Lean" [Wormack 1990]. I had the opportunity to write a short article for PM Network [Conte 2016] to take into account the little-known definition of Agile. Its "formal" genesis was in the USA DoD NSF / Agility Forum in 1990 of which I was part [Dove 2001]. These environments also help to generate organizations with sufficiently "elastic" and "malleable" architectures to change to the rhythm of the acting forces without "breaking".

There are always forces acting and we must consider the amount of force necessary (this will lead us to the Second Law) and there are always forces acting in response to action (this will lead us to the Third Law). Nothing changes state if there are no forces acting. The forces exist and we have the opportunity to use them in favor of change. In particular, I prefer to speak of activating forces rather than exerting forces

Second Law in action.

The amount of force needed to generate a change of state will depend on the size of that which must change state (actually of its mass m). If we go to the example of the broken car, if instead of a car it is a truck, we all know that it is not the same, considering the amount of force necessary, pushing a broken car like a broken truck.

If we take the liberty of considering that an organization has mass (I can justify it, but leave it for the debate, research or a next article) it is extremely important to know the size of the organization that needs to change. Returning to the concept of the organization as a system, we cannot forget that it is not enough to analyze the components, it is necessary to analyze the way in which components relate. This is known as enterprise architecture [Mitre 2004].

The more "big" the organization, the more strength it takes to change its state and the more "ancient" the organization is (regardless of its size) we need more strength too because culture plays a fundamental role. ("We always do it this way." "We always did well.")

Once the momentum is gained, it must be maintained by putting in place a process that ensures that relevant initiatives are the first to be implemented. The management of these initiatives is key to maintaining the force applied in the right direction (we will see that the Third Law tells us that there will always be forces present that tend to slow the movement or make the direction to change). Getting quick hits and making them visible helps people see and feel that effort means progress. Do not forget: the force has a direction and that direction is determined by the strategy.

In practical form, tools that have helped me understand the architecture there are several but I always recommend using the "The Seven S Model" by Tom Peters. [Peters and Waterman 1982]. The model combines seven basic factors to understand any organizational structure. Each variable or factor has an English name whose first letter is an "S". These are STYLE, STAFF, SYSTEMS, STRATEGY, STRUCURE, SKILLS, SHARED VALUES.

Mc Kinsey Seven S Model

In order to activate the forces intention, aptitude and conviction are needed. The first people inside the organization to activate necessary forces are those who motivate others to help.  As it was said in the television series "Mission, Impossible": "your job, if you decide to accept it is ...” Motivating and inspiring is key. What we use to achieve this will depend exclusively on the stakeholder we are going to interact with. To work with stakeholders you have to take into account such concepts as "reality", "perception". Quantum physics and its postulates help to understand the stakeholders, their construction of reality, and their perception of everything that surrounds them. [Penrose 1989] [Hameroff 1987]

Personally, I maintain and defend that to motivate and inspire others it is basic to be credible. Credibility has a multiplier effect on people and on the chain of components and relationships of the organization that sharply increases the intensity of the forces that act. I have an opinion, often controversial, about the need and effectiveness of using tools to work on the so-called "soft skills" (in my judgment). However, to be honest, for those who are looking for a tool to work on credibility at the corporate level, I leave as a reference a method that I have experimented, analyzed and was useful to achieve in various organizations of different types, cultures and latitudes in which I was involved. It is the "Speed ​​of Trust®" method by Stephen M Covey [Covey 2008]

I do not like to use the word "sale" because of the bad sense it has for some (not for me). Nevertheless, it is necessary to "sell" the guiding idea of ​​change at all levels to achieve commitment. I do not come from the field of sales. Because my duties in some companies I found myself taking training in various sales methods and I have used them for other activities (for example in elicitation of requirements). The sales method called "Solution Selling®" or "SPIN Selling®" [Rackham, 1998] has been a great help for my work for many years.

Third Law in action.

My favorite law.  The key for the execution of change: If a force is, exerted one must expect an opposite force of equal intensity. Each action corresponds to a reaction.

The third law is the law that people know best, or rather say people perform or act better. Beyond all the previous work that has been done, mainly acting on the First and Second Laws, there will always be an opposing force present. Internal and external forces will react to the action taken. If we think about it, this law gives us information not to be off-guard because thanks to it we know that there will always be a reaction to the actions we take. Then we can take the strategy of increasing the intensity of the action force or decreasing the intensity of the reaction force to execute the change.

In my personal experience, perhaps because the work I have done with this subject demanded quick results, I have always preferred to focus on activating the forces of action and increasing the intensity of those forces. In other words, focus on the positive (action) forces to generate the intensity and amount sufficient to cancel the negative (reaction) forces. A good method is to know and work on what the organization "wants and desires" instead of working on what it "does not want or does not desires". In everyday life, organizations can easily generate a list of what they “do not want or do not desire”, but the same thing does not happen with what they "want or desire". There the challenge.

To understand the external forces there are useful models such as "The Five Forces" of Michael Porter [Porter 1998] or the PESTELCO/PESTLE analysis that can be found on the internet. In the case of internal forces the method "Force Field Analysis" of Lewin is the commonly used to understand and raise management strategies. [Dent, Eric B.; Goldberg, Susan Galloway , 1999].

For every action, there is a reaction. Organizations must live with the consequences of the actions undertaken and the resulting reactions.


The laws that explain the universal movement also explain everything related to the movement that must occur when the need to change the state of organizations appears as a problem situation to solve to achieve adaptation to the environment and thus survive, grow and develop. We have the opportunity to take these laws as a basis, adapt them to our organization and understand the situation as a first step towards finding, defining and implementing a solution.


[Lehman, 1980]  Lehman, Meir M., 1980.  “Programs, Life Cycles, and Laws of Software Evolution”. Proc. IEEE 68 (9): 1060-1076.

[Darwin 1859] “The Origin of Species”

[Bertalanffy 1968] Ludwig von Bertalanffy, 1968. “General System theory: Foundations, Development, Applications.”, New York: George Braziller, revised edition 1976: ISBN 0-8076-0453-4

[MITRE 2004] MITRE, 2004. “Guide to (Evolving) Enterprise Architecture Body of Knowledge.”

[Conte,2016] “Perfectamente Posicionado”,

[Penrose 1989] Penrose, Roger  1991. La nueva mente del emperador, Mondadori,  ISBN 84-397-1786-5.

[Hameroff 1987] Hameroff, Stuart, 1987. “Ultimate Computing” , Elsevier,  ISBN 978-0444702838.

[Wormack 1990] James P. Wormack, Daniel T. Jones, Daniel Roos, 1990. “The Machine that Changed the World The Story of Lean Production-- Toyota's Secret Weapon in the Global Car Wars That Is Now Revolutionizing World Industry”, Simon and Schuster, ISBN 978-1416554523

[Dove 2001] Rick Dove. 2001. “Response Ability”, Willey, ISBN 978-0471350187

[Peters and Waterman 1982] Tom Peters and Robert H. Waterman Jr. 1982. “In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America’s Best-Run Companies”. Harper Business Essentials, ISBN 0-0605-4878-9

[Covey 2008] Stephen Covery, 2008. “The Speed of Trust: The One Thing that Changes Everything”, Simon and Schuster, ISBN 978-1847396228

[Rackham 1998] Neil Rackham, 1998. “SPIN Selling”, McGraw-Hill, ISBN 978-0070511132

[Porter 1998] Michael E. Porter, 1998. “Competitive Strategy. Techniques for Analyzing Industries and Competitors”, Free Press, ISBN 0-6848-4148-7

[Dent, Eric B.; Goldberg, Susan Galloway , 1999]. Dent, Eric B.; Goldberg, Susan Galloway , 1999. "Challenging 'resistance to change'" (PDF). Journal of Applied Behavioral Science. 35 (1): 25–41. doi:10.1177/0021886399351003.



[1] Defines the earth (m) as the amount of matter that has a body. You can be a measure for the difficulty to slow or speed up a body.

[2] It defines the strength (F) as the action between two bodies that changes or tends to transfigure any relationship between them. That is to say, that which is able to deform a body or change its state of rest or motion.

[3] For a quick reference can visit the page


Posted on: October 14, 2017 05:33 PM | Permalink

Comments (37)

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I love how you applied physics to organizational behaviour, Sergio!

Thank you very much Stéphane. I applied the Newton´s Laws to understand lot of things in my personal life too.

Great analogy! Helps me to understand better. Very clever. It is writings like this that keep the field interesting.
Cheers from one nerd to another!

Wow! Very well! Your article was very well structured and with good points and knowledge. Tks!

You are welcome William. My best regards

Excellent! And bonus points for citing sources.

Thanks Sergio, for a very interesting and thought provoking article. Thanks for the tools and sources references as well. I feel that newton laws are good but some other laws can be used in complement to explain further organizations "behavior" or degenerescence in absence of drive for instance, like thermodynamics and entropy. Well... you might comment that thermodynamics followed newton physics by two centuries so... Triggered by your article, I just found another interesting reference which both confirms Newton laws and extend them towards thermodynamics.

Thank you very much Vincent. Indeed thermodynamics can be used (and I use it) and deserves other article. The same with chaos theory I have the opportunity to research. I will read the article you pointed out. It is vety important for me to take this type of references because I use it in my work and personal life.

Excellent post!! Thank you Sergio for sharing this scientific approach.

Thanks Sergio, I like too much this simulation especially the formulate of F=ma for second law of Newton , "m" for size of company and "a" for " New/Old" company also simulation with 7 S Model for organization structure and First law of Newton simulation with change of environment in organization , it is useful for change management plan which use the Agile Method and Third law of Newton for concentrating in Action ( Positive Action) rather than Reaction ( Negative Action ) in organization Wants and Desires instead of Doesn't Want and Doesn't Desire... Cheers, Good Luck :)

Thanks Sergio, Nice interpretation and rational approach

Like the way you present it

Excellent article, Sergio and thanks for sharing.

Thank you very much to all for the feedback

Excellent article, thanks for sharing Sergio

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