Local Inertia Wells

Imagine being so focused on one goal that your results suffer. Believe it or not, this is common, and it's a mental model named the local inertia well. It's the idea that by focusing too much on one result, you miss out on a broader perspective that could bear much bigger fruit.  

The best way to think of this model is like gravity. Just as gravity pulls objects toward Earth, having a big goal pulls perspectives and behaviors toward it. In your effort to achieve the desired outcome, you'll limit the options you consider because they don't seem practical in obtaining the result. 

Local Inertia Wells Are Everywhere.

Companies do this all the time. They're so profit-driven in the short term they make decisions that cost them heavily in the long term, but this mental model is catching on, and trends are changing.

"We will continue to make investment decisions in light of long-term market leadership considerations rather than short-term profitability considerations or short-term Wall Street reactions," - Jeff Bezos, 1st Annual Shareholder Letter post IPO, 1997

Jeff Bezos and Amazon are famous for pushing aside short-term profits to secure giant bags for their future. How? By focusing massive efforts on innovation. Innovating new tech hardware, software, and strategies is costly in the short term but highly rewarding. Palantir Technologies does the same. It's a software analytics company founded by the billionaire Peter Thiel (and others). They set aside a massive budget annually purely for creatively testing and innovating new analytical software. 

*Sounds exciting!* 

But it works. The company's annual growth surges much higher than the industry average. Google is catching on too by launching their own 20% project— where employees are encouraged to spend 20% of their time developing creative projects that add value to their business. So far, Gmail, Google News, and other great features have come out of this program. A singularly profit-driven focus used to be the norm for public companies. However, these companies have discovered the effects of local inertia wells and are launching programs to open their scope and see the broader picture. 

The inertia well is an inefficient side effect of a democratic government too. Politicians target successful re-election over what's best for nations. Athletes often concentrate so hard on a successful result; they over-train to diminished performance or lose the desire to compete altogether. There are wells everywhere; if you train yourself to see them in the world, you'll be better equipped to identify them in your life, and that's where you can make meaningful change. 

How Can This Help You? 

Let's say you want to be healthier in life, so you set a goal of losing 15 lbs by Christmas. If you focus solely on losing 15 lbs (the local outcome), then you might try unhealthy tactics:

All of which are commonplace in the diet industry, but none promote a healthy and balanced lifestyle. These practices might also lead to a negative relationship with weight loss, health, or exercise—making those goals more difficult to achieve in the future.  

The true outcome you seek is a healthy lifestyle (global outcome), and you likely desire that because you think it will lead to happiness and growth (alternate global outcome). Using a global perspective, you can construct a plan to achieve your result without sacrificing essential values. 

In pursuit of ambitious goals, it's easy and necessary to get tied up in the near-term targets because that is your path of action. However, never forget the greater context of the journey you're on and the values that lead to meaningful life changes. 

What Can You do About it? 

Awareness is a Start

Elon Musk aims to put humans on Mars with SpaceX—Ambitions far larger than NASA's goals in the last few decades. NASA only worked on launching satellites to space, so they only iterated and slightly improved their process with that goal in mind. SpaceX's enormous plan has unlocked new ways to approach space travel. It's forced them to ask further questions and seek new solutions. For example, kerosene is the standard fuel used for launching rockets, but there is no kerosine on Mars. So SpaceX asked the question, "what if we used methane gas to fuel the flight instead of kerosine?" And they developed an engine that works on methane, a plentiful resource on Mars. It turns out methane is also a much cheaper resource on Earth, so it reduced refueling costs. NASA would have never considered this because kerosine works, so why pour millions of dollars into creating an entirely new fuel system if the one you have worked for the goal you're achieving?

It's important to remember that other 'potential' strategies could remain entirely invisible and sound ridiculous to you; until you challenge your objectives. NASA would never allocate the resources to challenge their assumption that kerosine was best because it's too costly, but you have the advantage. You have the agency and imagination to investigate your assumptions and re-frame your goals. 

Ask What If?

Asking "What if?" is a great way to challenge inertia wells. Imagine "What if?" scenarios to challenge goals. 

Creativity and imagination are vital to thinking out of the box and discovering unique ways of navigating life's goals. Exercise these muscles for a small chunk of your time, like Google or Palantir, and you will generate remarkable strategies.

Always Keep The End in Mind 

Every action, every habit, every behavior can be seen through the context of your entire life, but it means taking time to stop and consider the broader journey. Local inertia wells occur because people become fixated on day-to-day living. You fall into routines and forget to question their existence. Life quickly becomes too busy to sit and consider what the whole picture looks like, but it's a stark and sometimes scary realization when you find yourself deep into an image you never imagined. By visualizing different results in life, you can be selective about those valuable to you. Your imagination is a superpower not seen anywhere else in the universe; it makes sense to apply it thoughtfully. 

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