Recently I read ‘Good to Great’ by Jim Collins a book that describes the processes and structures that allowed eleven companies to transition from good to great and outperform the market by a factor of three for sustained periods.
One story in this book stood out to me and I used it as the basis for a conversation I had with a group of Year Six students. It is a simple concept that shows how sustained effort produces results more effectively than bursts of energy that are not sustained. It also offers a promise that with time, the effort applied every day will produce results that increase in magnitude and make ongoing success flow.
The story begins with a flywheel of massive proportions and enormous mass. It lies dormant as an undeniable proof of Newton’s First law; objects at rest will remain at rest. This particular flywheel is so massive that at first it seems almost impossible to move and yet that is the task at hand, for you to push this flywheel into motion. At the end of the first day of pushing with all your might it has barely moved at all, despite your best efforts, by the end of the second day its movement almost goes unnoticed but you keep pushing. Day after day you push and each day the momentum builds, slowly inexorably the flywheel begins to turn.
Even as weeks pass by you push at that flywheel and slowly, little by little the momentum builds. You push just as hard as you did on day one but the results are now gaining in size, the flywheel is beginning to work with you, each push builds more momentum and the momentum helps drive the wheel forward. As you reach the point where the flywheel's momentum becomes greater than its mass you continue to push with the energy you did on the first day but now each effort produces larger and larger results as the flywheel spins with ever greater velocity.
The next piece is what makes the story worth sharing.
At this point a passerby notices the huge flywheel spinning at great speed, its sides a blur of motion, you beside it pushing with all your might. The passer by stops for a moment and asks ‘What was it that caused the flywheel to spin so fast?’ ‘What thing did you do, what moment got it all moving so well?’ You stop and think, you look puzzled and confused. The question has no sensible answer for it was no one thing, no single moment, no disconnected action. The flywheel gained its motion because on day one you pushed and you have not stopped pushing.
I like the story because it focuses on success as a result of continuous effort and it shows that with time the results of the effort increase in magnitude. It is not a ‘climb the mountain’ story with days after days of hard grind, where every day is as hard as the one before but eventually you reach the summit. The flywheel has no top, but the effort does pay off as the results of each push add up to ever increasing levels of personal success. It is a great story for the growth mindset. Success in this story is purely a result of what you do day-in, day-out. It is not a lucky moment, it is not possessing great strength or having a brilliant mind that reveals a breakthrough strategy. Success against the flywheel comes from every little push that you apply in the right direction adding up to ever increased results through sustained efforts.
I finish with the questions I left the students with, what is your flywheel? and what will you do today, tomorrow and everyday to get that flywheel moving?