In his classic Good to Great, author and business researcher Jim Collins gives us this analogy:
“Picture a huge, heavy flywheel—a massive metal disk mounted horizontally on an axle, about 30 feet in diameter, 2 feet thick, and weighing about 5,000 pounds. Now imagine that your task is to get the flywheel rotating on the axle as fast and long as possible.”
“Pushing with great effort,” he continues, “you get the flywheel to inch forward, moving almost imperceptibly at first. You keep pushing and, after two or three hours of persistent effort, you get the flywheel to complete one entire turn.”
You can sense the momentum starting to build…
Then, “at some point—breakthrough! The momentum of the thing kicks in your favor, hurling the flywheel forward, turn after turn … whoosh! … its own heavy weight working for you. You’re pushing no harder than during the first rotation, but the flywheel goes faster and faster.”
We see here that momentum doesn’t appear out of thin air. It must be generated through effort. He explains the momentum of a turning flywheel like this:
Each turn of the flywheel builds upon work done earlier, compounding your investment of effort… The huge heavy disk flies forward with almost unstoppable momentum.
– Jim Collins, The Flywheel Effect
Momentum is often misunderstood. It’s powerful, yes. Incredibly. But not wild. It’s not the same thing as luck. It never springs up out of thin air. It rarely befriends you without warning.
You can generate momentum with astonishing reliability in your life. You can wake up early and accomplish something small to start your day. Make your bed. And you can eat your frogs by running toward the hardest tasks first.
And finally you can turn your flywheel. You can work hard enough to build an inch of momentum. And you can choose to wake up tomorrow and do the same thing again.
Roll the snowball.
Make your bed.
Eat that frog.
Turn the flywheel.
And watch the momentum build…
Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.
– Stephen King