Last night, I had the opportunity to participate in a ministry development think-tank, of sorts. It was amazing.
Some of the members of the team have been reading a book called Good to Great by Jim Collins. The book summarizes the findings of a team that set out to discover the differences between those companies that made the leap from mediocrity to sustained superiority and those who stagnated or ultimately failed (Collins). One of the principles Collins discusses in Chapter 8 is the idea of the flywheel.
Picture a huge, heavy flywheel – a massive metal disk mounted horizontally on an axle, about 30 feet in diameter, 2 feet thick, and weighing about 5,000 pounds. Now imagine that your task is to get the flywheel rotating on the axle as fast and as long as possible.
Pushing with great effort, you get the flywheel to inch forward, moving almost imperceptibly at first. You keep pushing and, after two or three hours of persistent effort, you get the flywheel to complete one entire turn. You keep pushing, and the flywheel begins to move a bit faster, and with continued great effort, you move it around a second rotation. You keep pushing in a constant direction. Three turns… four… five… six… the flywheel builds up speed… seven… eight… you keep pushing… nine… ten… it builds momentum… eleven… twelve… moving faster with each turn… twenty…thirty… fifty… a hundred.
Then, at some point – breakthrough! The momentum of the thing kicks in in your favor, hurling the flywheel forward, turn after turn… its own heavy weight working for you. You’re pushing no harder than during the first rotation, but the flywheel goes faster and faster.
The idea is that there is not one big push, not one single event or program or agenda, not one huge “moment” that suddenly hurtles a company/organization/ministry into sustainable success. There is no magic bullet.
This is a life lesson, I think. Not too many years ago, I was trapped by an eating disorder and addictions to cutting and anti-anxiety medications. While in a psychiatric hospital in Baltimore, someone told me that when the day-to-day tasks become completely overwhelming, I just need to do the next right thing. If it is getting out of bed and getting dressed, do that. If it is making myself lunch, do that. If it is texting a friend, do that. Some days, even now, the next right thing is all I can manage. But according to the flywheel principle, it is all of those little pushes forward that eventually create momentum and bring about success (or, in this case, healthy functioning).
The transformation God brought about in my life was miraculous, truly. He set me free from the eating disorder and addictions to cutting and over medicating. He plucked me from the pit and set my feet on solid ground. (Psalm 40) I absolutely do not deny the power of God to bring about quick, radical, sustainable change in a person’s life. But looking back, there were a lot of things I had to do to participate in His miraculous healing process. In relaying my testimony, I do not ever want to give the impression that one can simply pray the issues away while still living in a “doom loop” (Collins) of destructive or unproductive habits.
Collins makes the point that we do not often see the success story until the flywheel has already established significant momentum. We see the “before” and “after” and marvel at the transformation without seeing the days/weeks/months/years of initial pushes, critical decisions, and often unrewarding steps that set that flywheel in motion. We can’t neglect the day-to-day while we pine for the glory of the end result. We have to be faithful in the little things while God does His part.
For me, that meant showing up for therapy appointments and talking about really tough things. It meant taking my medications as prescribed, eating food that would nourish my body, sleeping at night and staying awake during the day. It meant sacrificing time with my kids in the short-term so they could have a healthy momma in the long-term. And it meant never, ever giving up when giving up felt like the only option.
I guess I just want to encourage anyone who might be waiting for a miracle… keeping doing the next right thing. Swallow the idea of the magic bullet, the quick-fix, the secret ingredient, and set about the day-to-day activities with faith and hope that God is doing huge things behind the scenes. He is so faithful. He won’t let you down. I promise.