Momentum and Change

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” – Mark Twain

Pilots have a saying: “altitude is your friend”.  This may seem counter-intuitive given the higher you are the further you fall.  However, falling is not the issue.  Having enough time to react and stop the fall is what makes the difference between life and death.  In martial arts the equivalent saying “momentum is your friend”.  This is also true in times of change and transformation.

In martial arts, the most challenging position from which to react is a standing start – getting caught flat footed.  Things often don’t end well.  However, when one is in motion – subtle or gross – you have much more flexibility to react.  To illustrate this point here is a one-minute video showing an activity from the martial art of Aikido called Randori – where one person is attacked by multiple people.  Watch the person being attacked, they never stop moving. The action starts at 18 seconds.

“A journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step” – Lau Tzu

The same principle applies to change.  The hardest point of any change – personal, organizational or enterprise-wide – is getting started.  If your business or career is stuck or at a standstill, nothing will change unless an external force is applied.  In the case of change, the external force is the desire or need to change which must overcome the inertia of the current state.  Once you get going, even in a small way, each subsequent adjustment gets easier.  Even if you move in a wrong direction, redirecting the momentum and energy is far easier than if you were not moving.

Having momentum and using it is great, but the hardest part is getting started.  In change, just as in martial arts, at some point you’ve got to make your first move.  Here’s a simple way to get going and start building your momentum.  For simplicity I’ll use a personal example.

First, identify something in your life you want to change.  It could be in your business, career, personal life, etc.  I like to ask the “How could I” question to get going always keeping a clearly defined goal (metric) in mind.  For example:

How could …

  • We increase revenue by 5%?
  • We increase our team’s productivity by 10%?
  • I create an extra hour in my day for exercise?

From there, make a list of five responses to that question which are things you could do immediately to start effecting that change. Make sure each response starts with an action.

How could I create an extra hour in my day for exercise?  I could…

  1. Shorten my commute time –  leave at a different time or take a different route
  2. Delegate more at work – identify three things you could delegate immediately
  3. Automate some of manual tasks – there’s probably an app for that
  4. Shift my sleep schedule – wake up an hour earlier or go to sleep an hour later
  5. Adjust meeting durations from 60 minutes to 45 minutes

There is nothing magical about five options, so if you come up with more that’s great, but try not to go less.  Forcing yourself to consider at least five often requires thinking more deeply and innovatively about how to bring about the change.  From here pick one potential solution and do it tomorrow.  Then do another and start building your momentum!