16 Jun

May 2021 

By Susan Myers

Physics is all around us.  In fact, almost everything around us can be described accurately by the laws of physics. They define how things respond and behave and serve as guiding principles both in the theoretical and the natural world.  They are concise descriptions of the universe around us; they are human statements of the underlying laws or rules that all-natural processes follow.  Such laws are intrinsic to the universe; humans did not create them and so cannot change them. We can only discover and understand them. 

Digital transformation initiatives are also all around us today.  Seventy-seven percent of the CIOs in a recent study reported that their organization were undergoing a transformation in 20212.  With thousands of approaches, frameworks, and consultants claiming to have the key to implementing a successful digital transformation, organizations still struggle.  Newton’s first law of motion provides guiding principles that can help any organization.


  1. An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.

Laws of Motion provide applicable principles for Digital Transformation.

So, what is the big deal? Many people have known Newton's first law since eighth grade (or earlier). And if prompted with the first few words, most people could probably recite the law word for word. The big deal however is not the ability to recite the first law nor to use it to solve problems; but rather the ability to understand its meaning and implications.3 

In layman's terms, this means that objects will keep on doing what they are already doing unless something prompts them to change their behaviors.  It is an object’s natural tendency to resist change without an external force.    

In physics the tendency to resist change is described as inertia.  To overcome inertia, successful transformations must be led by an ecosystem of leaders across the entire organization who understand the environment.  Leaders must lead from within and address elements of organizational inertia like: 

  • Culture  
  • Policy/Regulatory, Law, and Governance
  • Silos
  • Existing Commitments and/or Operations

Peter Drucker warns us that “Culture eats strategy for lunch.”  Why do you suppose this is true?  Culture is an ecosystem of behaviors and actions.  It defines the natural tendencies of an organization and the acceptable norms. Transformation Leaders (TLs) should begin their endeavor by listening.  To be successful, they must be aware of the culture. Similarly, they must openly address concerns and provide an opportunity for feedback and monitoring. They should identify the current challenges, policies or regulations, governing laws, and understand the operational commitments.

John Kotter4 renowned author states:

By listening and involving the team, TLs begin to understand the forces in motion and gain valuable insights into potential solution sets.  TLs from within can establish a culture of collaboration.  They gain insights into all aspects of the organization. They recognize and appreciate the pain points weighing each against the benefits, risks, and operational impacts.  They leverage the institutional knowledge contained within the organization enhancing the level of trust between stakeholders, leading to a higher likelihood for acceptance and setting of the appropriate vectors for change. 

The most effective and long-lasting changes require a group of change agents to help guide and assess the force necessary for motion to begin and how to maintain velocity across the organization.  The law states,

“…Unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.”

What exactly is meant by the phrase “unbalanced force”?  A force is a push or pull upon an object resulting from the object's interaction with another object. Whenever there is an interaction between two objects, there is a force upon each of the objects.5 Applying force in the wrong direction or too much force can have disastrous impacts such as shattering the object into multiple pieces.  In a business context, too much force can result in corporate splits, loss or closure of a business, loss of revenue, market instability, and high turnover of employees.

Understand the appropriate level of force.

Forbes reported that over 70% of all transformations in 2017 failed6.   Wow, what could have been done to help these organizations? To answer this question, let us look at an example of a failed transformation. 

A large corporation decided to apply an external force by hiring a new leader.  Within the first two weeks, the leader began applying direct force to the team members without understanding the existing ecosystem.  This resulted in over 40% of the team’s top performers leaving the company along with massive amounts of institutional knowledge being lost or no longer supported.  In less than six months, other organizations that depended on the output from this team found themselves lacking the technical support that this team provided.  Massive amounts of energy had to be applied to replace and rebuild the capability within their own organizations thus removing the synergies and creating divergent paths across the company.

There are six basic forms of energy in physics: chemical, electrical, radiant, mechanical, thermal, and nuclear.  We will discuss these in later blogs.  In this example, the application of the force caused a chemical reaction within the ecosystem.  A cohesive team was broken apart.  Some elements evaporated from the equation (e.g., top performers leaving).  Other teams had to apply additional energy to maintain velocity thus taking away from their momentum. This all because the leader did not apply the right forces to redirect or motivate the team to move in a new direction.  

Understand the appropriate type of force to apply.  Not all types of force result in the desired reaction.

Businesses cannot afford to apply so much pressure that it breaks operations, nor can they continue to Rob Peter to Pay Paul by applying incorrect force vectors.  Transformation needs to be assessed from multiple vantage points, looking at cause and effects with an understanding of the acceptable levels of risk and potential unintended consequences.  Like any good scientist, TLs should engage in technical discussions to form a hypothesis with measurable outcomes and experiment to prove their hypothesis. 

TLs must create the hypothesis based on their current ecosystems and their desired transformation outcomes.  Start small but be deliberate in your selection.  Good TLs will understand all the variables at play so they can demonstrate results and measure the cause and effect. Think of it like the two figures below.  

 Understanding your ecosystem and the right force plays an important part in successful transformation initiatives.

The complex path on the left has many different elements that can impact the outcome, while the one on the right has a clearer path. There is one starting point with one possible outcome (yellow).  Additionally, there are nine places where the movement is clearly observable on the right versus the obscure path on the left.  The best hypotheses have four elements: plausibility, defined concepts, observability, and general explanation.7

Join me next time as we address changing momentum and velocity vectors.


  • An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.
  • Force is equal to the change in momentum (mass times velocity over time).
  • For every action in nature there is an equal and opposite reaction.


  1. The Nature of Science and Physics by Lumen, https://courses.lumenlearning.com/physics/chapter/1-1-physics-an-introduction/
  2. It-2021-CIO-Priorities-Report-the-five-priorities, InfoTech Research Group, https://www.infotech.com/research/ss/2021-cio-priorities-report?initiate_downloads=true
  3. The Big Misconception (physicsclassroom.com), https://www.physicsclassroom.com/class/newtlaws/Lesson-3/The-Big-Misconception
  4. Our Iceberg Is Melting by John Kotter, St. Martin’s Press, copyright 2005, ISBN 978-0-399-56391-1
  5. The Meaning of Force (physicsclassroom.com), https://www.physicsclassroom.com/class/newtlaws/Lesson-2/The-Meaning-of-Force
  6. Forbes article dated Jul 25, 2017, Reason Why Most Change Management Efforts Fail, https://www.forbes.com/sites/brentgleeson/2017/07/25/1-reason-why-most-change-management-efforts-fail/?sh=6e266781546b
  7. What Is a Hypothesis and How Do I Write One? (prepscholar.com), https://blog.prepscholar.com/what-is-a-hypothesis-examples

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