The "Laws of Organizational Physics" - Part 2: Momentum

In my last post, I referred to the Laws of Thermodynamics. I discussed how the concept of entropy and the postulate that all things tend to chaos or disorder unless acted upon by an outside force, relate to organizational dynamics. Furthermore, that the processes and procedures in an organization represent the most efficient force for controlling those tendencies.

Another fundamental law of thermodynamics has to do with momentum – “A body at rest tends to stay at rest, and a body in motion tends to stay in motion, unless they are acted upon by an outside force.”

There’s that pesky “outside force” thing again. An organization that is growing, building and expanding has motion. Things seem to go its way. It is winning work, growing its team, and expanding its resources of knowledge, skill sets and perspectives.

Conversely, an organization that is stagnant, or “stuck in the mud”, seems to always be struggling – and the more they try to get out of the mud, the deeper they get stuck in it. 

In physics, momentum equals mass times velocity. The state of momentum of an organization, at rest or in motion, has a huge impact on the mindset and attitude of the organization. And, attitude and mindset can account for a very large portion of the organization’s mass. A can-do attitude and the confidence to win can keep an organization moving. A stagnant organization with a lack of confidence can become desperate, lose its focus, and unless leadership knows the way out, can go into what has been called “the death spiral”.

The challenge of leadership and management is to build momentum, and then maintain and control it. This is especially applicable in engineering and construction, as we are typically oriented around discreet projects that have a finite life cycle – and typically short ones, at that.

The relationship between the theories that all things tend to chaos and the laws of momentum, is that in the environment we all work in, there are many forces that conspire to slow down momentum. When a company has momentum, there are hundreds of forces acting to slow it down, such as the economy, competitors, technology and the biggest challenge of all, human nature.

Confidence is critical to building momentum. Complacency is the evil twin of confidence. Humility is the antidote to complacency and it is a critical management challenge to inject enough humility into an organization to keep complacency from seeping in. You just have to make sure you have no immunity to humility.

“It’s a fine line between being in a groove and being in a rut.”

Pete Plath, Austin Vice President and General Manager (Ret.)

“Paranoia of Complacency”

Intel Corporation motto under Andy Grove, CEO

Read "The Laws of Organizational Physics - Part 1"