More Conference Physics: Inertia

Newton's Cradle at Kurpark, Bad Laer Germany.

I bet you’ve heard this before: “An object at rest, tends to stay at rest.”

Oh, yeah, it’s Newton’s first law of motion: any object will stay at rest or in motion unless acted on by an external force. It’s also referred to as the law of inertia.

Yes, an object at rest, tends to stay at rest. However, a conference at rest, tends to die. The enemy of most conferences is the way it’s always been. When inertia influences your conference, it’s planned by the way you’ve always done it, programmed full of (past) best practices and destined to become average, slowly suffocating on its own status quo.

Inertia In Our Own Minds

We rarely discuss how inertia exists in our minds and organizations.

Cognitive and organizational inertia keeps an association on its current conference course even when facing disruptive or rapid external changes. It keeps our conferences locked in the past, as our leaders are unwilling to change or try new things. Instead, we prefer to keep business as usual defaulting to the way we’ve always done things.

Cognitive Inertia

We’ve all personally experienced cognitive inertia. It happens when we stick to our beliefs, habits, ideas and models, even when they no longer serve us well.

We allow conformation bias to rule our thinking. We cherry pick information that endorses our beliefs. We search for data that verifies our past.

Our constant use of this cognitive shortcut makes sense. It’s easier to evade new evidence that conflicts with our views. Understanding new problems, and evaluating complex data and uncertain information, requires a great deal of mental energy. It’s challenging to consider we might be wrong. It takes a lot of work to revise our beliefs.

The Cognitive Inertia Collision

When our shortcut-solutions-thinking collides with our organization, we face two types of organizational inertia: resource and routine rigidity. Hat tips Managing Resource Library.

Resource Rigidity

Resource rigidity occurs when we are unwilling to invest in responding to disruptive change. External forces such as competitive, regulatory, societal and technological influence this discontinuous change. Simultaneously, our external sources of resources shape and confine our internal choices. We depend upon the way our resource providers—our market and customers—have always delivered. We rarely consider any changes that may occur in our market and customers. Thus our resource rigidity discourages any motivation to respond with new investments to these sudden changes.

Routine Rigidity

Routine rigidity occurs from our inability to change our logic and patterns of behavior that undergird any new investments. Our traditional organizational processes and operations are tightly tied to our past success, leadership and even volunteer involvement. We built those operational procedures to reproduce ongoing success and avoid change. We didn’t build them to adapt or explore, making it difficult to develop new capabilities. Routine rigidity also refers to engrained routines where we separated the process from the people who implement them. This makes it difficult to see that actions within these practices and behaviors by these people are creating new challenges. So we default to organizationally-reinforced learned patterns of traditional responses, instead of employing new methods. This is where we hear things like, “We tried that before and it didn’t work,” or “We’ve always done it that way,” or “It was successful last year, so let’s repeat it.”

The Perspective That Matters

When our circumstances change, clinging to our beliefs can have dire consequences. Whether we intentionally ignore new changes or fail to respond to them, the results are the same. While it may be clear to others that we should change, we miss the obvious.

“Sometimes you make up your mind about something without knowing why, and your decision persists by the power of inertia. Every year it gets harder to change.” — Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

The perspective that matters is the one that lines up with reality. That means that sometimes we have to ignore our cognitive shortcuts and engage in the heavy mental labor to effectively respond to reality.

For more information about cognitive and organizational inertia read Farnam Street Media Blog, Fast Company’s Tim Miller, Managing Research Library, Shane Parrish and Sanket Deo.

How has inertia influenced your conference planning? What steps can we take to avoid inertia stalling our conference progress?

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1 comment
  1. Joey says:

    Inertia can affect your small business where you are going to waste your most important asset which is time. Therefore, it is best for a business to keep a certain extent of agility at any time so that the business can always progress.

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