Quantum chromodynamics

Rob Adams of the innovation agency Six Fingers will be looking at new theories and ideas emerging in the world that are contributing towards change in society, life and our ways of working

Text: Rob Adams 
Image: Saskia Kropff

In fundamental physics – particle physics specifically – the term ‘family’ is a common term. There are numerous families within physics, each fundamental to our existence. Their imaginative names alone make these families fascinating, with names like Quark, Hadron and Lepton. An important part of the study of physics is understanding how all of these families form the basis of existence.

For example, the important family of Quarks – which somehow have a science-fiction feel about them to me – is kept together by gluons. These are the glue between family members. Indeed, the word gluon resembles the word ‘glue’. And a key principle with this is that the force between the quarks increases as the distance between them grows wider. This force is known as nuclear force. The greater the distance between the two, the more connective energy is created. As a result, a quark never appears on its own, because when quarks are pulled apart, they contain so much energy that the energy is converted into mass and two additional quarks are formed. In short: they are never separated.

The theory of strong nuclear force is known as quantum chromodynamics. So I ask myself – given that we too are made of elementary particles – to what extent the same theory applies to us humans. Is it the case that you can never be separated from your family? Is it true that energy in fact increases the further apart we get? And are you never alone if you have family? Does this nuclear force also figuratively characterise human families?

‘It seems that blood is the elementary particle for forming family’

Let us take a look at the definition of family. Interestingly, every definition that exists of family relates to blood ties. Spouses are also considered part of family, but is not as elementary as blood. It seems that blood is the elementary particle for forming family. Over the centuries there have been countless famous bloodlines: from the Crassus family and the de Medicis to the Flintstones and our own Meiland family. What is their nuclear force?

When it comes to teams, the theory of weak links versus strong links is interesting in relation to families. The theory can be explained through a sports lens. In a ‘strong link’ system, the system is as strong as the strongest player; in a week system, the system is a strong as the weakest player. Basketball is a strong link sport: a very strong player can dominate a match. If that player is playing on a poor team against an average team, the team with the strong player will often win, because the strength of that individual can make the difference. Football is a weak link sport. If a very good player is playing on a poor team against an average team, there is a fair chance that the average team will win. Simply because the good player can’t be everywhere on the pitch. The more complex the system, the smarter the choice for a weak link system.

Perhaps we should embrace inefficiency and allow for delays. If I have the chance to grow old, I certainly hope I won’t be looking back at my life as being the most efficiently managed one ever. That would mean that I just kept running and never stayed still long enough to stand in awe of the world around me.

A complex system cannot be maintained by one individual; everyone needs to contribute. Building a business on just a couple of strong forces in a more complex system is, according to this theory, a risky decision. Given their complexity, family relations are not only worth studying in physics; but human family relations can also be considered as complex from a psychological perspective. To return to nuclear force: is this not the essence of family and especially a family firm? The focus on helping and improving the weakest link, because kinship means that you don’t forsake them? Taking care of the system instead of worshipping the strength of the individual?

How many companies actually operate on the strong link system? They believe in the strength of the individual and building individual strength, whereas the way to make the system stronger is by helping the weak link? Blood ties bind families and make sure that energy is generated if and when the system threatens to fall apart. Is that not a lesson for every entrepreneur? How are you caring for and protecting quantum chromodynamics, like the Quark family?

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