Reinforcement Loops, From Curiosity To A High Performance Mindset
“Small wins have transformational power. Once a small win has been accomplished, forces are set in motion to favor another small win and another small win until the combination of these small wins leads to the larger and greater accomplishments.” - Karl Weick
Here is another perspective on feedback loops!
Jim Collins, the author of the book Good to Great developed a concept called the Flywheel Effect. The flywheel effect, as Collins describes it, is a “reinforcing loop.” His analogy is that like a flywheel, it take tremendous effort to get a flywheel moving. Once the flywheel is in motion, the momentum you create which initially works against you, starts to work for your. Over time, you create so much forward momentum that with each additional push the flywheel continues to gain moment and spins faster and faster.
Like Weick’s quote, it’s about creating a series of successes (or breakthrough moments) that start with something small. With each breakthrough moment, you start to build momentum toward bigger and bigger breakthrough moments. Collins is quoted as saying that “The key is you build it over a long period of time. The power of a flywheel is that it’s an underlying logic, it’s an underlying architecture.”
As I interpret it, the flywheel effect starts by taking the time to understand what drives you, what you are passionate about, and what you are intuitively good at. I look at it as your superpower. It’s what you intuitively do well, something that you comes naturally to you, yet harder for others. This identification of self can take some time to understand, define, and take ownership of. Once you are able make this discovery, you start your personal flywheel effect.
The Flywheel Effect, from the book Good to Great by Jim Collins.
Picture a huge, heavy flywheel—a massive metal disk mounted horizontally on an axle, about 30 feet in diameter, 2 feet thick, and weighing about 5,000 pounds. Now imagine that your task is to get the flywheel rotating on the axle as fast and long as possible. Pushing with great effort, you get the flywheel to inch forward, moving almost imperceptibly at first. You keep pushing and, after two or three hours of persistent effort, you get the flywheel to complete one entire turn. You keep pushing, and the flywheel begins to move a bit faster, and with continued great effort, you move it around a second rotation. You keep pushing in a consistent direction. Three turns...four...five...six...the flywheel builds up speed...seven...eight...you keep pushing...nine...ten...it builds momentum...eleven...twelve...moving faster with each turn...twenty...thirty...fifty...a hundred.
Then, at some point—breakthrough! The momentum of the thing kicks in your favor, hurling the flywheel forward, turn after turn...whoosh! Its own heavy weight working for you. You’re pushing no harder than during the first rotation, but the flywheel goes faster and faster. Each turn of the flywheel builds upon work done earlier, compounding your investment of effort. A thousand times faster, then ten thousand, then a hundred thousand. The huge heavy disk flies forward, with almost unstoppable momentum.
For example, a first time swimmers first success is being able to get in the water and learn to float. The next succession of breakthrough moments include learning to swim, getting more efficient with her strokes and kicks, and continuing to build strength and endurance. This, in turn, leads to winning her first race, to winning her first swim meet, to winning a state championship.
The consistent effort and expectation you put forth leads to increasing your momentum toward bigger breakthrough moments. These are the moments you achieve over time. The key is understanding that you are focusing on the what you are good at and how you can be the best at it. When this mindset and expectation becomes second nature, it can make it seem as though good things just happen, which leads to that feeling of luck is on your side.
When you look at athletes like Tom Brady and LeBron James, you can see how their breakthrough moments have built up, from getting drafted to play professional sports, to winning their first MVP trophies, to Brady taking the Patriots to nine Super Bowls and winning six, and James taking multiple teams to 10 NBA Finals and winning four. On top of all that, Brady is playing in his 20th NFL season and James just finished his 17th NBA season. Craziest of all, both are still consider to be the gold standard in their sport, even at their age!
What was that one defining moment that made them great?
With Brady and James, if you look at their careers from that first season to the current season, both have consistently applied effort and energy in one direction, their consistent path to mastering their craft. There is no one moment, it's a series of breakthrough moments that have gotten them to where they are today.
How does this apply to you?
The flywheel effect helps you to celebrate your small successes and build on them. The accumulation of each success gives you that momentum toward mastery and personal development.
Collins attributes six steps to create your personal Flywheel Effect.
Big Questions: What are you curious about? This is where you start.
Research: If you are really curious about something, then you can’t help but want to learn about it and do research on it.
Chaos to Concepts: If you take time to do the research, to seek out information, and to learn, you start to formulate ideas, gain insights, and create concepts that come out of that research.
Writing and Teaching: If you are able to create concepts from chaos, it will compel you to write them, teach them, and share them.
Impact: If you are passionate about what you have written down, taught, and shared with others, you will have made an impact.
The Payoff: It’s the reward of being able to answer your big question. It fuels you to seek out and answer that next big question. It then fuels you to seek out and answer that next big question, which leads to the next (bigger) breakthrough. In business, your impact generates funds to fuel your business and for you to make bigger and bigger impact on the world.
Your Personal Flywheel Effect
In the end, your personal flywheel effect starts by identifying your superpower, and how you can use your superpower to fuel your curiosity. Your curiosity allows you to acquire knowledge, create ideas, and gain insights to share with others. In turn, you are able to make an impact on the world and to be rewarded by achieving a breakthrough moment. Then, the process starts gain. The knowledge, experience, and breakthrough moments give you the confidence to tackle your next big questions.