Strategic Thinking

Understanding why quitters win

What Is Your Momentum Factor?

You have 35 chances to change everything, every day.

According to a survey by Columbia University decision researcher, Sheena Iyengar, the average American makes approximately 70 conscious decisions every day. The average American adult spends half of their 17.3 waking hours either at work or doing work-related activities.  Taken together, that means every person makes roughly 35 professional decisions every single work day. 

So, why am I torturing you with an unsolicited math lesson? The point is that every single day, you have at least 35 opportunities to propel your career forward…or backward.  As a manager, that means every one of your employees has 35 distinct opportunities every day to move your team forward…or backward.  

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When you think about how many people are on your team (n) and you multiply that number by 35 choices each work day, you get a potential momentum factor of 35n.  

The rub is that the momentum factor is only potential. To fully capture that momentum you and your team has to do two things every day: think strategically and act decisively. 

Let’s talk about acting decisively first. If nobody is making decisions, it is impossible to build momentum.  It is simple physics: a body at rest tends to stay at rest.  But when you make a decision, you put that body in motion. That simple act can produce a pretty amazing ripple effect.

Motion by itself, however, is not the goal. For example, running around in circles puts you in motion, but it does not get you anywhere. Similarly, ticking off a bunch of tasks from the to-do list creates motion, but will not create momentum if those tasks lack are not guided by an overarching strategic direction. It is like management guru Peter Drucker once quipped “there is nothing quite so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.”

This is where strategic thinking comes into play. Roughly 35 times each day, you and every member of your team has the opportunity to translate your big picture strategy into a bite-sized choice.  Whether your strategy is to dominate the Chinese retail market by introducing premium services to an untapped niche market segment, or simply to lower operating costs in your department by 3 percent over the next quarter, that strategic direction must be crystal clear to everyone on your team.      

At the end of the day, your momentum factor will be determined by your answers to two questions.  Do you have a strategy that every member of your team can articulate at a moment’s notice? If they have to think about it for more than two or three seconds, it is a virtual guarantee that the strategy is not guiding most of their decisions. 

As G.I. Joe taught us, knowing is half the battle—but it is only half. The second question is whether or not each team member is taking that next step and actually making 35 decisions every day that support your strategy?  

When you can answer "yes" to those questions, momentum becomes inevitable.

Nick Tasler has a background in organizational psychology. He is the author of Why Quitters Win: Decide to Be Excellent.

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