The Momentum Fallacy

Newton’s first law of motion states that an object either remains at rest or continues to move at a constant velocity, unless acted upon by a force. This law is applicable to organizations as well and is called the momentum fallacy.

Quitting an organizational habit—such as fixed meeting schedules or rigid reporting structures—is a deliberate and conscious activity that doesn’t come naturally . Once an object or activity is in motion, it takes a lot of effort to stop it.

We see examples of the momentum fallacy everywhere. Take for example the Mini car. When the Mini was developed in the 1950s, an important design consideration was low cost. Thus, to paint the car, the chassis would be held in the air by a pole that protruded from the back to the front of the car. This pole caused a hole in the middle of the dashboard. The design engineers were classical pragmatists and decided to use this hole to fit the instrument cluster. Thus, the iconic design feature of having an instrument cluster, not in front of the driver, but in between the driver and passenger, was born. 

Though this setup was arguably inferior to an instrument cluster placed in front of the driver, it has been enthusiastically copied in many other modern automobiles, despite the fact that current technologies have rendered the pole-painting technique obsolete. This example shows that behaviors and activities will last until long after the reason for having them to begin with has disappeared. 

Killing legacy activities is hard: This is why challenging assumptions is such an important activity for any organization. 

Photo Credit: iStockPhoto/Stewart Munn

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