7.0 Creating Momentum

The seven keys to knowing how momentum requires creativity.

Art of War Quote: 

"Surging water flows together rapidly.
Its pressure washes away boulders.
This is momentum."

Sun Tzu's The Art of War 5:3:1-3


"If you're coasting, you're either losing momentum or else you're headed downhill." Joan Welsh

General Principle: 

Strategic momentum comes only from creativity in using standards.


The problem is that simply addressing the requirements of the situation is not enough for real success. We get by and survive knowing the appropriate response to a situation, but we do not rise to glory. When we feel that there is something lacking in our progress, we are almost certainly correct. What is usually missing is momentum. In everyday usage, the word "momentum" means forward movement or progress, especially the speed or force of our progress. In physics, of course, momentum measures not only the motion of a body but its resistance to slowing down. Sun Tzu's strategic momentum captures both of these ideas. It is the force and capacity for our progress. Like physical momentum, individuals and organizations that are advancing a position can more easily keep advancing their position as long as they don't lose their momentum.


We all have the opportunity to create real momentum in our lives. Sun Tzu's idea of momentum is a psychological state more than a physical one. Strategic positions consist of both objective reality and our subjective view of that reality, what really exists and what we think exist (1.2 Subobjective Positions). The psychological power of momentum is a critical precondition for getting our progress recognized and rewarded. While in specific situations, secrecy is absolutely necessary for making progress, the final breakthrough that establishes a new position cannot be secret. It requires visible momentum (6.5.5 Intersecting Response).

Key Methods: 

The following seven keys define the basis principles regarding creative momentum.

  1. Competitive momentum comes from introducing a little chaos into established standards . Standard practices are the skills that people expect us to know if we are good in our competitive area. They are what we call best practices. Skills in standard practices give your position "mass." Those practices may work and allow us to advance, but our advance is always seen as expected and unremarkable. Standard practices allow us to do a good job, but we don't get momentum from simply doing well. Skills in innovation give our positions velocity. Innovation requires ideas that work in a way that goes a little outside of current practice. Innovation works at least partly because it is novel. People don't expect it or understand it because it introduces a sense of chaos to the situation (7.1 Order from Chaos).
  2. Without being based on existing standards, innovation cannot work consistently. There are a million failed inventors in the world. Many may have brilliant, creative ideas and products, but since these people don't use the standard methods of their competitive arena, no one takes their ideas seriously. Without the basis of established expertise in standard methods, innovation simply doesn't work. We must lead with standard practices and follow up with innovation (7.2 Standards First).
  3. Strategic momentum comes from combining standard methods with innovation . It is similar to physical momentum that is the product of mass and velocity. Momentum comes only from combining standard practices and innovation. To create the psychological momentum, we cannot use proven practices alone. Together, you get forward momentum. (7.3 Strategic Innovation).
  4. Innovation interrupts standard practices at the right time to create surprise. The predictability of standard methods makes the possibility of innovative surprise possible. The introduction of innovation must be realized at the right time to create a change in momentum. If it is used too soon, the opposition hasn't formed an expectation we can interrupt. Used too late and the situation has progressed too far to redirect. Used at the right time, surprise seizes the competitive initiative, forming a new basis for competition (7.4 Competitive Timing).
  5. The psychological power of momentum is temporary. Surprise resets people expectations. This surprise creates the psychological momentum that increases people's expectations of our continued success, but only for a limited time. When we have momentum, others tend to support us more readily. We tend to act with more confidence and persistence while our opponents tend to act with less confidence and persistence. We must take advantage of this temporary situation while it lasts (7.5 Momentum Limitations).
  6. The momentum of innovation opens up entirely new competitive territories. Momentum is necessary to break down the physical and psychological barriers that confine competition to a given set of standards. Once those standards are destroyed, new possibilities are opened up as the basis of comparison and competition (7.6 Productive Competition).


Let us illustrate these ideas with the recent introduction of Apple's iPad.

  1. Innovation finds a new way that also works but does so a little differently. Microsoft is a dominant force because it has established a standard, but its standards have no market momentum because Microsoft is predictable.Though Microsoft's sales continue to grow, it has lost its creative force. Apple, in contrast, was an also-ran in the battle over the desktop but has maintained its momentum by bringing innovation to new product areas such as the iPod and iPhone.
  2. Without being based on existing standards, innovation cannot work. A number of companies have introduced various forms of MP3 players, smart phones, and eBook's readers. However, they did not establish a standard. Apple has developed standards in terms of both user interfaces, product distribution, and so on.
  3. Strategic momentum comes from combining standard methods with innovation. The original iPod created a standard for music distribution, iTunes, that the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad could build on with an entirely new interface and application environment.
  4. Innovation interrupts standard practices at the right time to create surprise. The most surprising aspect of the iPhone/iTouch environment was its value as a base for new applications. This use arose almost instantly when it was introduced. Prior to the iPhone, smart phones did not promote themselves as an application platform for 3rd party developers. The momentum of the iPhone convinced a large number of application developers to support the new platform.
  5. The psychological power of momentum is temporary. In sports, if last year's champion wins this year against an ordinary opponent, it doesn't create momentum. Similarly, Microsoft's mobile environments created no momentum because they were simply more of the same rather than something surprisingly new. 
  6. The momentum of innovation opens up entirely new competitive territories. The founders of Apple, Microsoft, and Google built up their companies by mastering a certain set of existing skills--computer design, software, web search--and bringing something new to that formula.  

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