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Posted: March 28, 2012

Business like a flywheel

Resist the temptation to change direction

Teri Karjala

Building a business requires a great deal of determination and patience. At the beginning, there is a period when entrepreneurs work very hard trying to get momentum going. It seems as though they put in a lot of energy and get nowhere. 

This is when the business owner needs endless patience and relentless fortitude.

When I was searching for answer on how to get through these challenging times, I found Jim Collins book, Good to Great. Collins introduces the concept of the “flywheel.” The idea of the flywheel is that applying consistent pressure in the same direction will eventually create movement. Conversely, changing direction midway through produces little or no movement.

A flywheel is a massive, metal disk mounted horizontally on an axle. It weighs 25 tons, is 100 feet in diameter and 10 feet thick. Picture a new company as the flywheel. At the start, the flywheel stands still.

The idea is to get it moving as fast as possible to get momentum going. In the beginning, enthusiasm and excitement for a new, fledging practice provides an endless source of energy. All that effort only moves it a few inches. Then it makes it around a full circle, but not enough to keep the momentum going. 

Collins talks about how in the beginning and during challenging times, entrepreneurs push hard, dedicating all energy to getting the flywheel (or business) moving. But they often feel as though there’s only minimal progress. Most are tempted to change direction to see if that might create movement.

But changing direction usually costs valuable time and energy. It takes a lot of work, but by staying on course, the flywheel makes a second rotation. Continued, steady pushing makes it turn three turns, four turns, five, six.

With each turn, it moves faster, and then—at some point, most can’t say exactly when—there’s a breakthrough. The momentum of the heavy wheel kicks in. It spins faster and faster, with its own weight propelling it. The business owner isn’t pushing any harder, but the flywheel is accelerating, its momentum building, its speed increasing.

In the beginning, the Crocs Shoe Company founders ran around doing everything possible to get the shoes in the hands of professional athletes and celebrities. They had a defined idea of their image. When their efforts paid off, the company took off beyond their wildest dreams.

One of the keys to finding this momentum and success is to know and set goals and determine who the potential client is. It is difficult to keep fortitude moving in the right direction when unsure what direction is desired. Identifying a practice’s business vision and direction is extremely important to developing a course. 

Building a flywheel, keeping it going in the right direction is dependent on having the knowledge of who and what the flywheel has been built to produce. Many small business owners don’t envision where they want their business to be in three years, four years or five years. They can’t stay on course because they don’t have a course laid out. Defining a vision of success helps the flywheel go in the right direction.

Anyone can put out a shingle to start a business or practice but if unsure of the goals of the business, reaching out to find clients in the right places or not giving clients what they want or need is almost sure to fail.

This can even be true for businesses or practices that have been around for a while.  They may have changed their mission or their purpose. If they don’t build a new flywheel with proper direction, they may find the old flywheel is going the wrong way from the energy being used to move it. Evaluating strategies and values needs to an ongoing practice to keep the vitality and spirit of a business alive—and to keep the flywheel moving.

Teri Karjala is owner of the Creative Counseling Center, LLC, as well as Talking With Teri, LLC. Teri’s passion for the business aspects of owning and maintaining a business has made her a sought out coach by others in the helping fields. She is a regular columnist for ColoradoBiz Magazine and speaks to therapists across the nation in building their thriving practice. Recently she has released her “How to Live Deliciously” Creative Journal Series to help inspire and empower adults, teens, and children. These are available in print at

Enjoy this article? Sign up to get ColoradoBiz Exclusives. The opinions expressed in this article are solely that of the author and do not represent ColoradoBiz magazine. Comments on articles will be removed if they include personal attacks.

Readers Respond

Great article and so timely for me as I am a startup and was starting to lose my momentum! Think I will review my goals and make sure I am staying on track. By Maria Vogeler on 2012 04 02
Wow, Teri another really great article. When starting any business you have a vision, but not sure of where the roads will take you. Minimal progress can seem daunted, but you are right on! My favorite part that I think will ring true for most: "They can’t stay on course because they don’t have a course laid out." By Kristen Sonsma on 2012 04 01
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