The Snow Ball effect

The Snow Ball effect

How can you move your work from an uphill struggle to a strategic position that works with you and not against you? How do you build a momentum where the circumstances work in your favour?

Most people can identify with being in a situation of fighting against a trend, or seemingly working against all odds. A situation where every step forward feels like being pushed two steps back, or approaching fatigue with little hope of replenishment or rest.

I remember the winter days of snow in my childhood years. On a day with lots of fresh snow, we would start off with a small snow ball on the ground, and we would roll it in front of us. It would quickly assimilate the snow in its path, and it would build quickly. As the snow ball grew in dimensions, we had to push harder to roll it, and even though our desired result of a huge snow ball was approaching rapidly, we struggled more and more. At the end, we got a few friends to help us in pushing, but we quickly realized that we were close to a complete stand still where the mega snow ball would remain till its timely meltdown sometime in the spring.

The paradox of the situation was the fact that the more successful we got, the harder we had to work. This was because the growth of the snow ball fully relied on our efforts in pushing. If our abilities did not grow exponentially - like the snow ball did - we would loose momentum and come to a halt. In reality, our abilities diminished as we became tired, and in the end we threw ourselves on to the ball without any apparent result. We had struggled to create a situation that was out of our hands.

Achieving your goals in life, in business or in other activities, has much in common with building a snow ball. Even when the snow conditions are perfect for building a huge snow ball, what seems like a breeze at first, will quickly become harder, and the first rounds of success will surely come back to haunt you as everybody´s expectations are heightened.

How can you build a lasting momentum that doesn´t require you to be Superman or Wonder woman?

From my own experience, there are two key factors in building momentum in an organization, a campaign, an activity:

  1. Establish a down-hill.
  2. Push the snow ball off the top of that hill

If this was a snow ball, it would end up building its own momentum, and with a good down-hill slope, as the snow ball builds in size, it will only reinforce its continual growth.

The most difficult part in organizational work is of course to establish the down-hill slope. There is no single answer for obtaining that in all situations, but here are some key observations I´ve made over the years:

  • If your´re a business, make sure that you make money. This sounds trivial, but I´ve seen my share of business ideas that hope to make money when it takes off, but if someone took the time to analyze up front, they would see that the cost per unit would always be greater than the realistic asking price. So, the more you sell, the more you loose. A classic uphill struggle where the snow ball will eventually turn on you. So, in short, make sure that your business model is scalable.
  • if you´re an organization measuring your success on the number of people involved, make sure that you can take care of people coming your way. Have structure and organizations in place to handle the growth, and have plans to make this sustainable both financially and with respect to your human resources. As paradoxically as it might seem, many have been killed by their own success. This is comparable to pushing a snow ball on the flat ground.
  • Make sure you are not fighting a trend. Rather, make sure you work alongside some powerful trends. More often than not, if you fight a trend, the trend wins.

If you have a down-hill established, meaning that you have a great concept, a fantastic idea or an efficient business model, you are good to go. But success will still not come of itself. You have to push the snow ball over the edge.

This means that you will have to do some hard work to push the snow ball towards the edge, you need to establish some quick wins, some measures of success, something to be enthusiastic about. This might sound easier than it sounds, but be aware that you do indeed need to obtain this critical mass. If you do not push beyond this, you will come to a halt. In our metaphor with the snow ball, it can be that the down-hill slope is a few yards away or that the slope is not too steep in the beginning, so you need sufficient size and speed to go past this critical, early phase.

The term "snow ball effect" is often used for processes that get out of hand and escalate and that eventually turn on you. That can easily happen when you are in a reactive mode of responding passively to your circumstances. However, the snow ball effect has a lot to offer when approached in a proactive manner.

So, get your snow ball rolling and create an avalanche of good!

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