If Your Position is Everywhere Your Momentum is Zero

In the context of classical mechanics, when we talk about momentum, we’re generally referring to the power embodied in a moving object, and how much force it will take to stop it. Momentum is considered one of the most fundamental quantities in physics, but just what is it and why is it so important?

In classical mechanics, the momentum of a particle is defined as the product of its mass and velocity.  Think of it as mass in motion.  Momentum is usually given the symbol p (made bold to indicate a vector).  It is defined as:

p = m · v

All moving bodies have momentum, regardless of their size or velocity. The rules of momentum (which we’ll cover in far more detail later), apply to all objects in the universe,  including businesses.  When we see a train moving at high speed we have an intuitive comprehension of its momentum.  However, when we talk about momentum in a business context, the image can get a little fuzzy.

In business, when we talk about momentum we’re usually referring to the effort required to stop an organization in motion. Which is why teams or organizations said to have momentum are often considered to be unstoppable. Based on the mathematical definition, business momentum requires velocity, which we previously defined as the time rate of change in revenue. Substituting that definition back into the equation yields:

p = m · dr/dt

Our systems of units for a business context is:

p = employee · $ · s-1

When we look at momentum this way, the definition is more intuitive.  Momentum provides the measure of how effective we are in leveraging our employees (mass) to generate a positive change in revenue per unit of time.

[From a purely mathematical viewpoint, there’s no restriction on the value that can be assigned to time (t) in the equation. While we used “dollars per second” above, we can just as easily use minutes, hours, days, quarters, or years.]

Tips for Building Business Momentum

Back in February we talked about the sheer volume of articles offering recommendations and tips for building momentum (Marketing’s Tower of Babel). If you’ve ever been part of an organization struggling to build momentum, you’ve probably experienced the corresponding wave of new initiatives, programs and tasks that employees are asked to undertake.

I’d like to offer a slightly different perspective on building momentum, one that’s tied to the quote from the Nobel Prize-winning chemist William Nunn Lipscomb, which served as the title of this week’s post:

If your position is everywhere, your momentum is zero.

To explore the perspective in more detail, we’re going to take a brief, allegorical trip back in time.  As Mr. Peabody would say: “Sherman, set the WayBack Machine for 0000.”

The Book of Genesis, Chapter One

As we walk through the door of the WayBack Machine and the scene unfolds, we find ourselves lost in a primeval abyss – a formless, shapeless, expanse of nothing. There is only darkness – the void. The chaos associated with absolute nothingness is both overwhelming and terrifying.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, there is an eruption of light. Light is followed by form.  Form becomes firmament.  When the scene ends six days later, we find ourselves in the midst of a universe brimming with matter, energy, light and life. Chaos has been replaced with order and structure.

Regardless of one’s particular faith or spiritual upbringing, chapter one of the Book of Genesis can be viewed as a powerful allegory for what it takes to build genuine momentum.

Read the first chapter with a focus on the protagonist’s “activity” and one thing becomes crystal clear: each day is dedicated to one task, and one task only. The Creator’s attention to the task at hand, whether it be manifesting light or the bringing forth of grass, herbs and fruit, is all consuming. The absolute discipline of focus exhibited throughout the process is awe-inspiring.  There are no distractions, no interruptions and not even the slightest hint of multitasking.

Each day’s task is undertaken with total attention. Each task is completed in its entirety before moving on to the next. And, equally important, each task is partitioned from the next by a period of quiet self-reflection focused around one solitary question:

“Was the result of today’s activity good?”

The secret to building business momentum is not found in doing “more”. It is rooted in the discipline of consciously giving up being “everywhere” in exchange for doing one thing tied to increasing revenue – and doing it to the absolute best of one’s ability.

6 thoughts on “If Your Position is Everywhere Your Momentum is Zero

  1. Pingback: The Conservation of Momentum in Business | The Physics of Business

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