Going Against The Momentum

26 Aug,2011 01:00 IST

Going Against The Momentum

Mark Roeder describes how Newton's concept of 'momentum' has influenced the outcome of events throughout history

Giraj M. Sharma


Sir Isaac Newton defined 'momentum' in 1687 and this marked the epoch of a great revolution in physics which till then, as per most, remained in the darkness of conjectures and hypothesis. Interestingly, the work of Newton and some early scientists prompted some philosophers to ponder whether the laws of physics can be applied to human behaviour. This gave rise to a field called 'social physics' which seeks to understand how society works by relating it to our scientific knowledge of the wider universe. To its credit, social physics has not just made society more comprehensible but has also helped shape it. Corporate executive and cultural commentator, Mark Roeder expands the claim of social physics in his fascinating and intriguing work on the concept of momentum, The Big Mo. The book describes everything about the phenomenon and provides a historical overview to establish how momentum has influenced the outcome of events.

Momentum is the new zeitgeist. The Big Mo, as a term has its roots in sports where it is generally used to describe the effect that momentum has on a team's performance (when the going is good, the teams are not supposed to lose momentum!). Over the last couple of decades the term has been adopted by analysts and the intelligentsia to describe situations in which momentum is a driving factor across political campaigns, social upheavals or economic cycles. Roeder sketches a picture of our society as one that's momentum-driven; where one is increasingly compelled to go with the flow, no matter what the consequences. A society where no one is really responsible for what happens - because it just happens! This, as per the author, this is because we are evolving as a monocular society where the convergence of viewpoints is ushering us into a new age of conformity. This is making our society more vulnerable to upheavals such as the recent global financial crisis.

The Big Mo is a compelling book by all accounts and flows more like a best-seller. It speeds up smoothly from the financial markets to geopolitical situations encompassing events such as the Middle Eastern crisis to oil prices and from climate change to religion. Roeder puts in a genuine effort to help us avoid the pitfalls in the last section of the book by devoting a chapter on avoiding the dark side of momentum. However, the build up - the gain of momentum on the Big Mo - is such that one is, by then, sold on its power and thinks it is impossible to ride against it.

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 05-09-2011)

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