The Inertia Challenge
October 10, 2006 Leave a comment
It seems like the term ‘inertia’ has become washed-out in The Noughts, just as the term ‘paradigm’ was overused late in The Nineties. I often hear inertia as the key culprit for nearly every business problem encountered in the past 25 years. Inertia in this case can be defined as the force that keeps people and processes behaving in the same ways, even in light of superior methods. While there’s no doubt that changing the behaviors of 6.5 billion people isn’t going to happen overnight, not all problems can legitimately be blamed on this mystery force of forward momentum. In fact, as a general rule, one should question and further scrutinize any situation where the basis for some problem has been associated with ‘intertia’.
For instance, I’ve had several conversations where the creation of various roles in a business has been deemed questionable and mostly likely a product of corporate inertia. While this may be true in some aspects, especially with the standard approach used in handing out titles, there can be no denying the power of specialization in this process. If enough individuals existed with all the abilities to engineer, market, sell and support a product, market forces would soon push this new wave of white collar workers to the top of the food chain. Unfortunately/fortunately, these superhuman workers do not exist in significant numbers; thus, the need for most existing job roles continues.
Another similar situation often blamed on inertia is the existence of management within large institutions. Is the existence of VPs and CxO positions at Google a product of inertia at the enterprise level, or is this approach just the reality of not having a better system of organizing large numbers of people to accomplish a similar goal? If there has ever been a chance to rethink common ways of doing things, I believe Larry and Sergey would have found and promoted a different way. If innovation is the nemesis of inertia (and I believe it is), Google would be the Jedi force facing the Sith-based corporate mandate.
In general, pinning the responsibility on the ‘inertia effect’ will typically provide little help in solving a problem. In fact, blaming inertia will most likely provide a red herring excuse for giving up on attacking a problem due to the overwhelming nature of tackling such a mystic force. Looking for smaller solutions to problems and taking baby steps to tackle a larger problem will lead to much more productive solutions, and in many cases, these smaller solutions may lead to the generation of superior methods which alter the state of the bodies in motion.