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There is no greater enemy to strategy than “active inertia.”
I caught the term in passing while listening to a former bond company CEO talk about the pitfalls of the modern economy.
The term speaks for itself. But to be more precise, we’re talking about activity without progress. Strategy that doesn’t advance. Anywhere-but-forward movement.
Why is this so dangerous? Because it is the subtle psychological lie that tells us “all is well.” It dodges the reality that progress comes with costs. It permits smart, sharp people a pass when it comes to the pain that real strategy demands. And it lets us slide and coast and shuffle until the adversary shows up and changes everything.
I’ve seen it in several ways, but principally in two. The first is formal. An organizational strategy that specifies no specific target, that directs no direct steps, an “end” that has no real end. Strategies written like this are a nickel a dozen. They’re everywhere and get nowhere. They’re baby blankets for adults - a psychological clutch devoid of purpose or profit in the physical world.
The second is informal and more insidious and widespread.
You can see it in strategy but let’s look at everyday life first. Think for a moment about all the people who lie routinely to themselves about parts of their lives where advance would be hugely beneficial. You don’t have to look far. Try your own family first. A member who claims to want to, say, purchase a property, but does none of the things necessary to achieve that goal.
Strip that down even further: Person A wants Something B, but makes no meaningful progress.
Walk around any workplace to spot the same. “ACTIVE INERTIA” could be stamped on the top of every email and document and paystub. Reports that don’t get read, initiatives that die quiet deaths, and actions that slip away any time a “new sheriff” rides into the corner office.
Some of this is natural. Strategic wastage that occurs in the course of everyday life. But most is subconscious sabotage that kills any sense of strategy before it even crawls out of the crib.
This post originally appeared in January 2023.