You Are The Chicken And The Egg–  6 Steps to Crack Success

six white eggs and one brown

So, you want to be successful. In a world of clamoring start-ups, tech disruption, and billion dollar innovations, you want to stand out from the rest.

Everyone wants the secret sauce. Businesses hire consultants to tease out their target market, massage their mission statement, and hone their strategy. Individuals break open monosyllabic books like Grit, Drive, and Flow that promise to reveal fundamental truths about what makes us tick.

The Flywheel

Many people think of success as one lucky break. It is the record deal, the viral video, or the clever commercial that flicked on the limelight. However, one event does not necessarily mean a breakthrough. Sustainable success is achieved through momentum; the building up of little victories.

While writing his book Good to Great, author Jim Collins and his research team interviewed large, successful companies to figure out what catalyzed their shift from good companies to great ones.

“In creating a good-to-great transformation, there’s no single defining action, no grand program, no single killer innovation, no solitary lucky break, no miracle moment; rather, the process resembles relentlessly pushing a giant, heavy flywheel, turn upon turn, building momentum until a point of breakthrough and beyond.”

A flywheel is a huge, heavy wheel used in machinery to generate inertia. It takes a lot of energy to get it going, but once it starts spinning, it can’t be stopped. The flywheel can provide energy in the case of an electrical outage or while other gears get going.

Flywheel on a train track
A 19th-century locomotive flywheel

How do businesses and individuals get their own flywheels spinning? How do we see our projects through to the end, to develop habits, build willpower, and generate enough power to sustain us into success?

The 6 Steps

People always start projects buzzing with energy. They face the flywheel with vigor, ready to crank. But it is heavy and the progress is incremental, barely noticeable, and hardly rewarding. Energy peters out, and another project looks like it might spin a little smoother.

Yet there are breakthroughs. Once they get the flywheel going, companies rocket to valuations of billions of dollars. Individuals strut across stages in front of audiences that hang onto every word. Through sweat and hardship, the flywheel seems to spin of its own accord.

There are six steps to consider while building the momentum you need to succeed.

1. Clear Goal

If you have a clear direction, you can look ahead to identify roadblocks in your way and opportunities ahead. You don’t have to know all the details. It is enough to have an idea of where you want to go in order to map out the path ahead.

2. Start Small

The way forward is not by a leap or a bound, but by a series of single steps. In Japanese, it’s called Kaizen, or “good change.” In software development, we call it Agile. Break apart monumental projects into little pieces that you can tackle in a short period of time.

'A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labours of a spasmodic Hercules.' - Anthony TrollopeClick To Tweet

If your goal is to become stronger, you might be tempted to set a goal like: “Do 30 extra pull-ups by the end of April.” Big goals like these are more likely to overwhelm than motivate. Rather than focus far in the future, concentrate on this week. Instead say, “Go to the gym three times by Friday.” Or, even better, “Go to the gym tomorrow.” Whether you are building an app or muscle mass, focus on what you can do short-term to make daily progress towards your goal.

Make small iterations to get to the final goal

3. Track Your Growth

Returning to the book Good to Great, author Jim Collins explains the progression of success as a chicken and an egg. The egg is unremarkable; people pass by without a second glance. Yet one day, it cracks open:

All of a sudden, the major magazines and newspapers jump on the story: “Stunning Turnaround at Egg!” and “The Chick Who Led the Breakthrough at Egg!” From the outside, the story always reads like an overnight sensation—as if the egg had suddenly and radically altered itself into a chicken.

If you were the chicken, you would recognize that growth was happening all along inside the egg. Hatching was just another step in a long development process. Remember that in a world of chickens, every idea, project, and goal has a necessary incubation stage. Others might find it unremarkable, dull, and not worth the effort, but the chicken knows that it takes continued growth to crack into success.

4. Make an ‘if-then’ Plan

Psychologists have found that people who anticipate complications are more likely to reach their goal. They call it “implementation intention” or preparing if-then statements to plan for future obstacles.

For example, imagine you were trying to reduce your alcohol consumption but also planning to go to a party. You might think to yourself, “If Jose asks me what I want to drink, then I will ask for a Sprite.” If you want to eat fewer sweets, you might think, “if I get a sugar-craving in the afternoon, then I will eat an apple.” With a plan in place, it’s much easier to follow through.

Make a plan for what you will do when something puts a wrench in your flywheel’s path.

5. Define Your Flywheel

Collins writes about how businesses define their own flywheel. Several big-name companies, including Amazon, Intel, and Vanguard, bought into the idea and diagrammed their flywheels. Here’s the end result for Vanguard:

Vanguard identified what they already did well, and figured out how each piece fed into the next.

Starting from the top: by offering low-cost mutual funds, they provide long term results, which builds loyalty, which encourages their clients to invest more, which grows Vanguard’s assets, which means Vanguard can take advantage of economies of scale, which in turn means they can offer lower-cost mutual funds. It comes full circle in a clear model of momentum. I am a huge fan of the Vanguard model, and use them for all of my investments, so I can say that the strong client loyalty piece is certainly true!

What are the components of your own flywheel? Start from the top with something that drives your personal success. My top priority is investing in my growth. Here is my flywheel:

By investing in myself by going to conferences, reading books, and studying in my free time, I put myself in a better position to find fulfilling work. Once I take on something fulfilling, I want to develop mastery in that area. When I’m more capable, I can be more independent. That confidence feeds positively into my relationships, which helps me to continue improving myself.

What are the aspects of your flywheel? What self-reinforcing behavior helps you to succeed in your own life?

6. Anticipate Hardship

Don’t be fooled if your progress seems to stall. Start-ups have a name for this– the valley of death. The funds collected during the initial investment are steadily depleted to develop the product, market, and finally launch. While the product garners interest, funds continue to drop. This creates the infamous valley.

Amazon is a prominent example of a company that fought through the valley. Amazon did not turn a profit for nine years after its founding, and even after that people doubted whether it could keep growing. In an article in NASDAQ from October 2013 titled, “Will Amazon Ever Make Money?” the author writes,

“I love the company and have been an Amazon Prime customer since 2007. But I’ve never bought the stock.  And for one simple reason…

Amazon isn’t profitable. With few exceptions, the company has basically operated at break-even or turned a tiny profit.”

Now everyone wants to know the secret to their success, but back in the day, Amazon was pushing on a flywheel that felt like it would never turn on its own.

A graph of the death valley and start up launch
Funds are low in the time between product launch and ultimate success

In our own lives, the goal may be a shiny success story on the horizon– but we have to walk through the valley of death to get there. There will be times where we feel like giving up. We won’t see a return on our self-investments until much later. Every success story faces hardships– different versions of the valley of death– but we can find a way to power through the threat of defeat.

Takeaway

Success starts with small steps. When you are working hard, sweating and straining to push your flywheel forward, it may feel like nothing is working. To the outside, you may look like an unremarkable egg.

In order to build momentum:

  1. Start by identifying a clear goal
  2. Break it into small pieces
  3. Track your progress
  4. Plan for obstacles
  5. Identify your flywheel
  6. Accept that there will be hardships

Keep pushing, and inch by inch, little by little, you will feel something budge. The secret to success is momentum, and now you have the steps to build it. So what are you waiting for? Get cracking!

What has helped you build momentum in the past? What does your flywheel look like? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

12 Comments

    1. I think I would enjoy doing something like that! I try to do some public speaking on similar things, but I haven’t ever done a corporate training event. Thanks for reading!

  1. Haha fixitlady nailed it. I thought the same thing. This is super relatable to nearly every project or hobby I have worked on. Getting through that valley of pain is tough but it’s paid off greatly when things were finished.

    We teach this in my continuous process improvement classes regarding change management. Getting through the valley of pain, persistence, small goals, and proper planning are all key fundamentals for lean, six sigma, CPI. Awesome article.

    1. It’s amazing how these concepts have spread in all those different areas! I like to think that advice for businesses or scrappy start-ups are just as applicable for an individual. I agree– the payoff for getting through the valley is tough but pays off. Bloggers like you know the pain! Keep on keeping on 🙂

  2. Great reminder to focus on nurturing your flywheel. I think for most people their flywheel will include specific expertise (and therefore nurturing your professional development), supportive people (therefore nurturing your network) and capital/ resources to invest (therefore nurturing your personal finances). In my work in HR consulting, I see lots of careers, and I see too many people so focused on their day-to-day that they don’t nurture their flywheel with professional training, regular networking, getting their finances in order, and then a career setback happens and they are caught unawares.

    1. I really like that you have identified those three things for each person’s flywheel. It is easy to get wrapped up in the day-to-day and forget that professional development, networking, and personal finances can continue to pay dividends into the future. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, I think it is helpful to start by thinking about those three when considering a personal flywheel!

  3. I like the concept of the flywheel. Not quite sure what mine is. Perhaps the blog, which takes a lot of work with only incremental progress made. All I can do is dedicate myself to posting more regularly and reading more blogs for inspiration and hope that it helps!

    1. Yeah blog writing is definitely a flywheel for me, too! It takes a lot of effort and time with little measurable reward in the beginning. Here’s what I came up with for a blogger flywheel: 1. write good content 2. post regularly 3. read other blogs 4. build relationships 5. act on feedback 6. generate ideas

  4. This post goes very in-depth referencing personal situations and broader companies out in the world (like Amazon and Vanguard). This type of analyzation is my favorite (micro/macro) – nicely done!

    P.S. I l would like to adopt the language “anticipate complications” vs. “worry like a crazy mo-fo.” I like your blogger flywheel suggestion in the comments too. You could totally do a post on that!

    1. I’m glad you appreciated the micro/macro approach, I was hoping I wasn’t bouncing around too much between a company approach vs. individual. That’s a good idea! I was thinking a lot about blogging while writing this post since it is how I have been trying to set up my blog. One small thing at a time.

  5. This is great, loving it! Agreed I believe you could give corporate trainings regarding this, maybe an idea for an extra side hustle to achieve financial independence sooner? 😉

    1. I really have to pick a side-hustle and run with it! 😉 I wonder if any companies will hire a 25-year-old who says they have the secret sauce.

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