Building Momentum – Written by Doug Neal

If you ever have been becalmed on the water on a sailboat you know what it’s like to lack momentum. Your boat simply sits there without any forward movement wallowing in the seas as each wave tosses you back and forth and despite all your effort in tuning the rigging, adjusting the helm and cursing you simply cannot make the boat go forward.

I’ve been in this situation numerous times on the water and it is frustrating.

Then something happens… a slight puff of air out of the South-West. Not enough to fill the sails or even to be felt on your skin but you can see the tiny ripples on the water. You scan the boat assessing your rigging in anticipation… am I ready? What can I do to make sure my sails will grab the wind? It’s coming.

A few minutes later you start to feel a slight breeze. More than feel it, you can hear it as the sails stop their annoying slapping and snap to attention as the wind commands them to their task of propulsion. It’s here.

Now you start to move, albeit sluggish at first since there is not enough water moving across the underwater surfaces to give you significant control but it’s started. Not comfortable with the progress you quickly start adjusting lines and tuning the sails trying to squeeze any extra power you can from the sails to build speed. It’s building.

Now the breeze freshens and your boat comes alive with a rhythm of motion. A constant heel and a charging through the waves heightens your senses as you become one with the boat and adjust the helm to achieve the optimal angle to the wind. You are sailing now and the breeze is propelling you forward. Your job isn’t over, in fact, now you are fully committed to maintaining this motion and you tune, react and adjust while scanning for threats on the horizon that might dare to disturb your journey. You’ve arrived.

For me, building momentum within an organization is very much like sailing and can be equally as frustrating and rewarding.

When you are without momentum in an organization you can definitely feel it. And, perhaps more telling, you can see it. Organizations without momentum tend to be tossed back and forth from objective to objective looking for something to grab hold of and move forward. There may be lots of work and running around and yes, most likely some cursing but yet there is no movement. No momentum.

Then, something happens. There is a puff of activity somewhere. Not everyone will see it, in fact, often only one or two people will see it. Usually it is an entrepreneur who is used to thinking outside of the box and looking for patterns might detect it first. Something has changed either in the market or a technology or some customer buying pattern. A change is coming.

Quick to react, entrepreneurs start gathering their assets and preparing for the change that they know will come. Do I have a unique opportunity? Are there assets I can bring to bear to take advantage of these changes in the market and be ready when it comes? Acting quickly you start to plan, build and prepare for the change that is coming as you want to be ready, to be first.

Now there is noticeable change in the market. A rift, a shift, something different is now happening. (Remember when Apple’s iPhone Appstore went from 5,000 applications to 30,000 applications in a month?). Everyone is starting to notice now and your organization responds… sluggish at first but you start to execute. Technology starts taking shape and problems start getting solved. It’s here.

Now trends have started to materialize and movement is happening around you with some consistency and your organization comes alive. A rhythm of movement starts to occur where employees, customers and partners start to engage with synergies that start building on each other. Issues that arrive are quickly resolved; employees efficiently resolve problems and react to customers autonomously yet with a consistent message as you continually charge forward. You have arrived.

Momentum is a wonderful thing and just as you know when you have none you will most likely know when you have it. As Thomas Zurbuchen famously says, “you know you have momentum when you feel the breeze in your face”. Exactly!


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