Newton’s laws and systems improvement

March 29, 2010 at 4:13 am | Posted in Systems Improvement | 1 Comment

We all studied Newton’s laws of motion at school. Though the systems are far more complex than physical bodies, revisiting the laws may throw light on some of the challenges we face during systems improvement.

First law: A physical body will remain at rest, or continue to move at a constant velocity, unless an outside net force acts upon it.

Systems improvement does not happen by itself. If we want to change something for better, we need to make an effort. The good part is, once the new way of doing things settles down, it will continue on its own.

Second law:  Rate of change of momentum is proportional to the resultant force producing it and takes place in the direction of that force.

Amount of effort required will vary from situation to situation. If we make less effort it will not suffice. Too much also is a waste and sometimes even harmful. We need to judge right kind and amount of effort in each case.

Third law: To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. 

We should not be discouraged by initial problems. It is natural. Persistence will pay. Jim Collins in his famous book “Good to great” has talked of the flywheel effect. You need effort to start turning the flywheel, but once it picks up momentum it helps to keep moving. Rather than dramatic results, we need sustained efforts to keep improving.

Systems improvement can happen at two levels. Each of us as individuals can try and improve upon various actions we take during the course of our work. Similarly, the teams can work on improving interactions within the team as well as with others. Two rich sources of improvement ideas are,

Unsolved problems:  When faced with a new problem our normal reaction is to find a shortcut or a workaround and move ahead. Under pressure of work, it is the most practical thing to do. However, once the problem is taken care, we forget about it and miss a great opportunity for improvement.

Unexplored opportunities:  During our day to day work we come across opportunities to go to the next level. But we don’t have time to explore and flesh them out.  Here again, we just move on and forget about them.


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  1. Very nice article and use of metaphor. I wish I had a professor like you to explain the technical stuffs during my PG,.

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