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The following article
was written by Coleman Patterson and
appeared in the Business section of the Abilene Reporter-News.
Inertia can be good or bad for a business, December 9,
One of my favorite
things about taking science classes was when the teacher conducted experiments during
class. It was always intriguing to try to
figure out the purpose of the equipment and a challenge to predict the outcome before the
experiment was conducted. For one experiment,
the teacher appeared in class with a four-foot length of rope and a bicycle wheel. The wheel had an unusually long, rubber-covered
axle that extended out about five inches on each side of the wheel.
For the experiment,
the teacher held onto the two ends of the axle and spun the wheel on the floor and then
held it up for the class to see. The wheel
spun so fast that the spokes on the wheel were nearly invisible. While it was still spinning, the teacher rested
one side of the axle on a table and quickly looped the rope under the axle on that side. He then lifted up the still-spinning wheel by the
rope and his other supporting hand. He
quickly asked the class what would happen to the wheel if he removed his
handallowing the wheel to be supported on only one side by the rope. In the minds of most, they probably pictured the
unbalanced wheel falling to the floor and rolling across the room. When the teacher removed his hand, the wheel
tilted slightly to the side where his hand had been and then found balance on the rope. The spinning wheel remained upright even though it
was being supported on only one side of the axle.
The result of the
experiment was explained using Newtons first law of motion; which states that,
An object at rest tends to stay at rest and an object in motion tends to stay in
motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced
force. The spinning wheel remained
moving in the same direction and resisted falling from the rope. The wheels inertia kept it upright on the
rope until friction slowed it down enough to become unbalanced and fall from the rope.
speaking, organizations also have inertia and are subject to the same laws of behavior as
moving objects. The expressions,
lets get the ball rolling and lets keep the ball
rolling refer to starting and sustaining collective work. Inertia within organizations comes from goals,
organizational polices, roles, structure, processes, cycles of events, technology, and
patterns of behavior. As learned from
Newtons first law, inertia is typically harder to establish than to maintain and it
shows us that changing organizations can also be difficult.
by their natures, resistant to change and require unbalancing forces to steer
them in new directions. Those forces might be
crises or emergencies, actions of charismatic and visionary leaders, organizational
cultures, or needs for new strategies and methods of competition. For managers and organizational leaders who
believe that the only thing constant is change, the concepts of organizational
inertia should be something they understand and appreciate.
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