#105: The Flywheel
Lately, I've been thinking a lot about the struggle of starting something new. Probably because I'm struggling to start something new. In my occasional moments of despair, I find it helpful to think of a flywheel.
For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, a flywheel is a mechanical device designed to store rotational energy. Basically, it's a literal wheel that spins, and as it spins, its rotation creates energy, which (given the basic laws of physics) keeps it spinning and producing energy. (For a more complete explanation, here's a killer Wikipedia page.) The concept of a flywheel is often used to explain the momentum a sales organization gets as it starts selling more, becoming more known in the community, which leads to selling more, which leads to becoming more known in the community, etc. Energy begets momentum begets more energy begets more momentum. A spinning flywheel that throws off business is the Holy Grail of sales.
But, understanding physics at even the basic level that I do, that flywheel doesn't start turning on its own—energy can be neither created or destroyed, right? So, to get the flywheel spinning in the first place takes a tremendous amount of effort, during which time you aren't going to see much output. And that's the really hard part of starting a new business. You are standing at the bottom of this giant wheel, pushing so hard to get it moving, putting in energyenergyenergy, red-faced and sweaty, and the wheel is moving an inch or two. Just fractional progress. So you keep pushing. You keep applying energy and sweat and effort and watching the microscopic movements of that damn wheel.
Sometimes, it becomes too much. You are exhausted. You've been putting in energy for MONTHS and the flywheel has barely made a rotation, and you think, "I'm done. This isn't working, no one wants what I'm selling, and I'm never going to get this damn wheel to turn." So you stop pushing. You get another 9-5 job, or you start something else new, beginning from a dead stop again. But what you don't realize is that you are actually abandoning a ton of progress.
That second turn of the flywheel was going to be easier than the first. You had momentum on your side. Physics was going to help you get that second rotation in less time than the first one, and man, that third turn was going to zip past, and if you just hung in there, by the time you got to turn four, you could do it with one hand, while counting your revenue with the other one. That's the thing about momentum—it is so hard to get it going in the beginning, but then it starts carrying you along without the huge investments of time and energy that you had to make in the beginning. You can't stop altogether, because entropy is also a thing, but you can spend time working on other things while giving the flywheel smaller, steady pushes.
So if you find yourself several months in to a new endeavor, first, ask if you are really putting in the energy you need to get the flywheel turning. And if you are, don't quit. Don't lose the energy you've already put in and go back to a dead stop. Just. Keep. Pushing. You'll thank me when your flywheel is spinning so fast you can hardly keep up with it.