Quantum dynamics and coffee pots

Beth Fox
5 min readMay 31, 2019


Fractals … those apparently chaotic patterns that repeat as you zoom in or out… it’s the metaphor I hold in my brain to explain my basic understanding of quantum behaviour. I was first introduced to that idea in an introductory course in deep democracy.

colourful fractal swirling pattern

Admittedly, its a bit of a leap (no pun, I swear!) from quantum physics to quantum psychology. But if you follow that premise, the basic idea is that if you pay attention to human dynamics you’ll start noticing the flow of energy in a room, rather than the discrete individuals. What’s more, there are patterns of behaviour (or energy signatures) that repeat both at a larger scale and a smaller scale as you zoom in and out.

When I was first exposed to this notion, I also happened to be in the middle of some very intense qualitative research… After one particularly intense day, something clicked… I suddenly saw all the patterns repeating. In the small group I’d just interviewed… in the staff in building that we toured on our way out that day, in the entire organisation that I’d been asked to help… in the public discourse and conversations about the issue that had come to a head.

It takes a bit of practice, but once you start to see the world this way, it’s impossible to un-see. The energy of group dynamics is something we all feel… maybe when you’re an empath (like me) you can’t help but tune in, but you don’t necessarily take the observational stance required to track and notice the “data” that the patterns reveal. If your more a more analytical type, you feel it too, but you might prefer a focus on facts and what is a more knowable in a Newtonian sense. (I can almost hear a dear colleagues voice saying, “Lets not get all wound up… this isn’t about the feelings.”)

What I love about this notion, is that it’s a classic “yes and”. We can acknowledge the energy and how it feels; AND we can observe it and more clearly understand it’s patterns and impacts before we act, as we act to try to change or sustain how we engage in groups.

But wait, what about the coffee?

A while back… (maybe not even a year ago… maybe more? I can’t honestly can’t remember because it feels like how it’s always been) the Digital Services team came together with a small group from our ICTS team. They were delivering our login service/platform and we were building services that needed identity and authentication. What would happen if these two symbiotic teams could be physically in the same space, and spend more time together? Could we become greater than the sum of our parts? Could we validate our hunch that co-location was part of the secret sauce for excellence in digital delivery?

One thing that quickly emerged was “FRESH POTS”. Fresh pots was a communal coffee station set up by some of our new team mates, in a vacant workstation where they were sitting. It may actually have started a mild rejection of our communal keurig (for plenty of good reasons I won’t go into here…)

There was a grinder, a coffee pot, filters, and eventually a logo. Coffee was brewing and anyone could come and get a cup. Whatever blend or brew was on offer was written on the sign with the time of day it was brewed. Low fidelity with a humble vibe.

We even had a dead ringer for Dave Grohl. The team mate who had actually started this whole thing. (This video is why the name Fresh Pots emerged)

The keurig and our “coffee talk” corner was quickly abandoned as we adopted the new start-up. It was self-organized, communal, and self-sustaining. People began bringing in assorted beans and roasts to contribute. When one carafe broke, a new one appeared. When a fresh pot was needed, someone who didn’t even drink coffee put one on.

It was magic.

And then something else happened. There was one member of the team that expressed that they found the usual brews too strong. She wanted it to be brewed at half strength…

How did fresh pots respond?

Within a few days there was a scale to precisely measure the beans. There was a blind tasting poll installed where throughout the day different brew strengths were rated. The data was in the open (on the glass beside the sign). Everyone could see how many grams was in each pot and how they were rated on a Goldilocks style preference scale. Someone even created an equation to find the perfect pot!

the fresh pots sign with the Goldilocks equation

I stood there one morning, taking this all in… in awe. This was our energy signature. Our pattern of team dynamics laid out at the scale of a pot of coffee. The “fresh pots response” was the team default. We handled coffee concerns how we handled our work and each other.

It was a human centred response… seeking to understand and validate the user needs of everyone impacted. It was multidisciplinary… there was measurement, there was genuine curiosity, there was open data, there was transparency. We openly challenged our “finicky” team mate while at the same time rallying to get to the bottom of it. There was also a lot of trust and mutual appreciation in the process. We were problem solving and seeking clarity on what the minimum viable brew for our team was.

It was a quantum reveal.

Reflections and scaling the awesome.

Today was a big day for most of us. There was reorganization. There are two departments coming together as one. There is the creation of a Chief Digital Officer. Our leader Natasha Clarke has been appointed to formally bring our ICTS and digital service delivery functions together with a singular purpose.

Make it easier for departments to deliver end-to-end, front-to-back human centred services with excellence.

One team, one dream.

Even without much detail on what this will mean day-to-day for everyone down the road, it feels like validation of the change we’ve worked so hard to make within ourselves. The things we’re most proud of have been a team effort. The time to experiment has proved the value of this approach, and it’s time to scale up.

It’s time to see how that energy can flow and mix in other spaces and new ways. I know what emerges next will be even stronger because I’ve witnessed what comes with more diversity, voices, and talent. I believe in the baseline pattern of this fractal because I’ve felt it’s energy run through us time-and-time again.

We’re not just good at coffee. And I can’t wait to see it at scale.



Beth Fox

Multipotentialite. I ❤ empathy & kindness. Fond of asking how might we? Works @ Nova Scotia Gov to make the world better. Loosely held opinions = mine (she/her)