I’ve been thinking about inertia in business. Inertia is the phenomenon Richard Feynman and his father discussed when during a walk the physicist, then a child noticed how the ball moved to the end of the truck when the two were in motion [via Adam Savage].
The exchange likely inspired the young Feynman to set out to learn more about the topic. Inertia is a law of physics that states:
“An object at rest tends to remain at rest, and an object in motion tends to remain in motion.”
Inertia is a way of measuring how hard it is to change the momentum of an object, whether that’s getting it to speed up or getting it to slow down.
That depends on how much mass the object has. Big heavy things (things with a lot of mass) have more inertia than light things. You have to push a bus harder than a scooter to get it to move.
Once a thing that has mass starts moving, it’s also hard to stop it from going into the direction in which it is moving. In itself, inertia is neutral — whether it is a good or a bad thing depends on circumstances.
Take for example organizational inertia. Building momentum and getting up to speed takes some doing. Coordinating efforts implies people make choices and understand trade offs, which involve discussion, the ability to ask questions to keep everyone informed.
However, what happens when organizational inertia means that the tendency of a mature company to continue on its current trajectory causes it to miss out on business opportunities?