The first time I saw people shooting pool (playing pocket billiards) I was hooked. Perhaps is was having seen The Hustler with Jackie Gleason as “Minnesota Fats” or maybe it was a manifestation of male adolescence. What a simple and elegant game! The cue ball strikes another ball and it goes into a pocket on the big green table, sometimes.
My friends and I gave it a try. We quickly discovered that only a small percentage of people are good at pool. It’s not a game of physical prowess and it’s not so much about hand/eye coordination as it is a game about momentum and vectors.
Momentum is literally “mass in motion.” It has to do with power, or energy, residing in a moving object and vectoring off other objects. It’s how we made the billiard balls do what we expected, sometimes.
I later discovered that my meager successes with pocket billiards were grounded in my unconscious application of Newton’s Three Laws of Motion.
- An object at rest tends to stay at rest and an object in motion tends to stay in motion, with the same speed and direction, unless acted upon by an unbalanced net force.
- The rate of change of motion of a body is proportional to the applied force and takes place in the direction in which the force acts.
- For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
People and organizations don’t fit neatly into Newton’s Three Laws, but there are strong similarities. We’ve all seen people – and organizations – work harder and faster in a world that has changed or is changing, to no avail. Example: the manufacturing company who complained of “low-to-no margin sales” because they wanted to keep on selling to several “big name” customers. There are plenty of other, much more profitable (for them), not-big-name, customers in their marketplace where they have a sterling reputation. These big name customers are well known for squeezing vendors hard, very hard, on pricing and terms; squeezing to the point of strangulation. This manufacturer’s solution? Increased emphasis on sales to the big name customers. An object in motion tends to stay in motion, with the same speed and direction, unless acted upon by an unbalanced net force.
Similarly, there are those who seem incapable in the face of change and wonder what happened. Example: the professional services firm which has had great business growth over the past fifteen or so years because of their location in one of the fastest growing areas of the country. “Our growth strategy was simply to open the office every morning.” The growth has stopped: for that area of the country and for the firm. Their decision? Freeze – a lack of momentum; an object at rest tends to continue to stay at rest.
Consider the senior executive who was very direct (read: brusque) with his peers and subordinates. He was intelligent (a quick study and fast processor) and ever impatient (he had a laser-beam focus on whatever captured his attention and was often thought of as “looking angry” when he was “just thinking”), no matter what the topic or situation. He was prone to explosive anger that was short-lived, but the effects lingered much longer. Everyone in the business sought to avoid his wrath (virtually impossible). One day his behavior was rewarded by his three most valued and senior people walking into this office and announcing their resignation, “We’re tired of your crap. Goodbye.” For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
This was a wake up call. After some soul-searching analysis, some honest feedback and some help about how to “do it better,” he started listening more, smiling more, relaxing (a bit) more, and giving others permission to be human, including himself. The rate of change of motion of a body is proportional to the applied force and takes place in the direction in which the force acts.
If we can, just for a moment, think of each of these three examples as “systems”, we can apply some basic logic that can be powerfully helpful. It’s a fundamental law of nature that if no external force acts on a closed system of objects, the momentum of the closed system remains constant. Yes, each example is functioning as a “closed system.” It has shut itself off from meaningful interaction with its external environment (unwilling or unable to accept the reality at hand). It develops entropy, which, in simple terms, is the measure of disorder in a closed but changing system, a system in which energy (momentum) can only be transferred in one direction – from ordered to disordered state. The greater the entropy, the greater the disorder and – don’t miss this – the lower the availability of the system’s energy to do useful work.
Without Newton’s Second Law, we are very likely to follow the path (vectors) governed by his First and Third Laws. Our inertia needs an intervention.
Our lives and businesses are not as simple as a game of 8-ball or snooker. However, like the balls vectoring around the pool table, our momentum is taking us somewhere. We should take notice.
In Other Words…
“If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always had.” – Zig Ziglar
“Don’t confuse the edge of your rut with the horizon.” – Gary Hamel
“The ultimate judge of your swing is the flight of the ball.” – Ben Hogan
“Sow a thought and you reap an action; sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
“You know, I got a hunch, fat man. I got a hunch it’s me from here on in. One ball, corner pocket. I mean, that ever happen to you? You know, all of a sudden you feel like you can’t miss? ‘Cause I dreamed about this game, fat man. I dreamed about this game every night on the road. Five ball. You know, this is my table, man. I own it. ” – “Fast Eddie” Felson to “Minnesota Fats” in The Hustler
In The Word…
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” – Romans 12:2
In Linked Words…
Your momentum is recorded on your calendar. Notice.