Lewin scholars will forgive the oversimplification, but Kurt Lewin's famous work from 1951 is worth highlighting here.
Students of elementary physics will recall adding vectors together to account for forces acting opposite, or at angles to, one another. There is a simple elegance to the way things work out using simple math to sum up what we feel when we place two magnets opposite one another.
We either feel them pull together or push apart.
I remember playing with the pieces from a small magnetic chess board as a child, intrigued by the feeling of trying to force the pieces together against their natural inclination.
Lewin's field theory suggests that there are similar social forces at work in any given situation.
When we attempt to change the situation, some of these forces support our new direction, while others oppose them.
Consultants have long used a simplified "force field diagram" to help groups of people to visualize the social factors at play in organizational change efforts. We draw arrows of varying magnitudes, pulling ideas from the audience, to produce a neat, simple visual portrayal of what you are up against when solving a given problem.
The concept is simple and the effects are profound. When we draw out the lines of magnetic forces or social ones, it can help to clarify what's going on.
Powerful forces like these often operate unseen, but we certainly do feel their effects!
Image courtesy of Pixabay.com
Reference: Lewin, K. (1951). Field theory in social science. New York, NY: Harper & Brothers.