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When Change Resistance Is Inertia, Mass, Friction, and Flywheels

When Change Resistance Is Inertia, Mass, Friction, and Flywheels

It comes up as a casual comment.  “We’re facing some change resistance.”  Your ears perk up and you wonder what’s leading to the perception of resistance.  As you and the commenter begin to explore, you realize that it’s not some magical force of resistance, it’s simply that the project isn’t moving as fast as hoped because of mass or inertia.


Objects at rest tend to stay at rest.  In fact, organizations at rest also tend to want to stay at rest.  There’s an initial burst of energy that is required to break through the inertia and get things moving.  However, what is often ignored is that this inertia doesn’t occur once for the organization, it occurs in the organization, in the department, and in the individual.

Sequentially breaking the inertia for each department and individual may be no big deal.  However, if the initial burst of energy wasn’t large enough, it can seem like each new department and individual is a struggle.  Like launching something into orbit, with enough energy, things get going and seem to continue to circle effortlessly.  If we start with enough energy to fully break the inertia, the additional departments and individuals seem to just fall in line.  If there’s not enough energy in the initial launch, there may be no way to recover.


As a fundamental matter of physics, the amount of force in an object is the mass of the object multiplied by the square of the velocity.  Therefore, as we accumulate more mass, we need more force to keep moving forward at the same speed.  That means that we can’t kick off our change project and expect that it will coast forward on its own.  We must make continual investments in pushing it forward.

What we may be seeing as resistance may not be true resistance but simply the reduction in speed due to the increasing size of the change – or it may be friction.


In a complete vacuum, you can start an object in motion, and it will continue forever.  However, our organization aren’t vacuums.  Everyone has their own perspectives and beliefs.  Our change efforts naturally bump into these perspectives and beliefs and are slowed by the process.  That is not to say that friction is all bad.  The people’s perspectives and beliefs that the change collides with may be changed.  Like billiard balls on a pool table, they may begin their own motion and start to influence others towards the change.


Ultimately our change efforts should be like flywheels. They store energy in rotational energy and release it when they need to produce results.  To accomplish big changes, we need only to continue to add more energy to the flywheel than is taken out.  As the size of the change increases in scope, we need to increase the number of people who are adding energy to the flywheel, so that more can use that energy to accomplish their transformations as a part of the change effort.

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