Monday, September 28, 2009


When I rode my bike to and from the office, I used to pedal as fast as I could down the steepest hill on the route.  The highest speed I was able to achieve was 30.2 MPH, as tucked as I could get on my commuter bike.  It felt less like slicing through the air and more like pushing against a mattress.  The reason can be found in the quadratic drag equation.

The last variable in the equation is velocity.  It might seem sensible that drag at 10 MPH would be double drag at 5 MPH.  In fact, drag at 10 miles per hour is four times drag at 5 miles per hour because velocity is squared in the quadratic drag equation.  In other words, the faster you are going, the more difficult it becomes.

Drag is insidious.  Travelling about in our cars, we easily forget how much energy we expend fighting it.  Drag does not exist only in the realm of physics, it occurs in organizations as well.

Many of us have worked with someone who brings “negative energy” to work sessions.  Some people seem to be capable of only the most direly pessimistic predictions.  Sometimes, drag exists and we don’t even know about it until a key person is absent from a meeting, and the meeting is doubly productive.

Just because we get used to the drag that some people bring to an organization does not mean that the effect is harmless.  Take a look at the product marketing life cycle and decide where you want your organization to sell products.  The second stage (product growth) is the most lucrative, with firms enjoying low competition and high demand, which leads to higher margins.

Firms playing catch-up are likely to find themselves arriving on the scene during product maturity or decline, where margins are lowest.  If your firm, department, or group seems to struggle with offering the high demand products and services at the right time, perhaps you have gotten used to too much drag.

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