Back in college I had a job managing a group of machine operators. Part of my job was to make sure that the materials for the equipment were easily available to my team so that they could keep the machines running as much as possible. I taught my team to think of the machine as a cash register. When it stopped running the company stopped making money. With that simple mindset we were extremely efficient.
Our materials came from various sources around the world, I purchased in bulk through a series of middle men, then stored the materials in our warehouse. In our department, we kept a small quantity and I would order replacement items on a regular basis and a different department would go get what I needed and bring it near our area of the warehouse and we would put stuff away.
Typically, this was a smooth operation. But sometimes, like on a weekend or over a holiday, I would have to go out into the warehouse and get my own materials.
Our stuff was densely heavy. So, I would take apart skids of materials on their shelves and put what I needed onto a very heavy hand cart one item at a time. Then I’d push as much as 1 ton of materials and put them away in our room.
This cart was really cool in it’s simplicity. It had big steel wheels, heavy wood, and a massive steel bar for pushing or pulling.
You know what was interesting about that cart? I could put thousands of pounds of materials on it, give it a big shove, and then walk along with it along the smooth concrete exerting very little effort. It took way more energy to stop it and start it than it did to just keep it going in a straight line.
To keep that cart under control you had to find the right speed and apply an even amount of force. If you did that it was fine. If you didn’t apply enough force consistently you ended up working way too hard. But if you got going too fast… you would be out of control and you might not actually be able to stop it.
I always feared that someone would walk out in front of me and I wouldn’t be able to stop the cart before it hit them. That never happened. But one of my co-workers did hit a very large steel post (buried in concrete) and bent it severely.
That is physics in action. A giant mass doesn’t need to go very fast to apply a large amount of force against a stationary object.
It is also a lesson in how momentum works. In order to keep moving with the least amount of effort, you have to apply a steady amount of force.
I think the cart taught me a lesson way back that is easily applied to stuff I do today.
Moving a lot of mass involves the right amount of force
When I reflect on things that are out of control in my life… maybe I’m misapplying force? Maybe I’m going too slow and working to hard as a result? Maybe I’m going too fast and changing directions is just too difficult? And maybe I’m just not patient/disciplined enough to walk at the right pace or applying the right level of direction?
Too often, I have an attitude that I can do everything at once RIGHT NOW and all the time. And that means that things sometimes get out of control. Sadly, it also means that sometimes people get hurt.
The role of friction
The key to the cart working in the warehouse is that there’s very little friction between the steel wheels and the smooth concrete. That’s why its so important to keep the floor of a warehouse clean. Outside of the warehouse, friction is the variable in the equation that is not always under my control. In order to maintain momentum, I need to constantly monitor and deal with sources friction.