Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Momentum, Leverage, Action

by Asim Jalis

An interesting concept we haven't talked about much but which relates to our conversations about leverage and execution is momentum. Momentum is also a kind of leverage. It leverages the last action. Each action builds on the other creating a much larger impact that the actions would have had alone. Momentum is the idea of creating a synergy, or a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts, except the parts are distributed in time rather than in space. A software product is a synergy between its components. Each component leverages the others. The entire product might leverage existing infrastructure, such as the internet and the credit card systems, and so on. This is all leverage in space. Momentum is leverage in time. It is how one ad campaign dove-tails with a different promotion and creates an effect bigger than each individual event. You can see the same thing in 4th of July firework displays. The fireworks build up to a crescendo, the momentum builds up and culminates in the grand finale. Without the momentum build-up the fireworks would not have the same effect. But momentum is not just a matter of doing everything at once. Imagine a fireworks display in which all the fireworks go off at once. The sky lights up and there is a big blast and then it's all over. This will not have the same impact as a display that builds up gradually. To leverage properly each phase must execute separately so that they can build up on each other. Here is a simple way to decide when to kill a project: kill if it does not build momentum. Momentum is the opposite of work. If you own a business with momentum the business will run itself. You merely have to be there to make sure it moves in the right direction. Imagine you are driving on the highway. Momentum is what keeps you going. It's much easier to overtake another car using momentum than using acceleration. Acceleration is hard work. Momentum is a freebie. When people first study Newtonian mechanics the concept of inertia seems like magic. How can something keep going for ever. And yet this idea is everywhere. Momentum is the idea that after some point you don't need to feed the pipe. That things keep going without additional expenditure. Now let me connect this with the idea of creating value. It's not sufficient to create value. It's just as important to create momentum in the value creation. Giving a man a fish creates value for a day, but teaching him how to fish creates momentum. Malcolm Gladwell's idea of the tipping point is that if you push in the right way, eventually a process crosses a tipping point, where it has sufficient momentum that it carries itself forward. Fashions, diseases, fires, avalanches are all like this. They build up on themselves, they accumulate energy and eventually they reach a tipping point where their momentum becomes self-sustaining. Each action leads to the next and the force becomes unstoppable.