Mental Inertia: A Destroyer of Value

10 06 2008

The concept of ‘value’ has been intriguing me for sometime now. This is the first post of my  series on ‘value’.


Many non-value adding and value destructing activities that we end up carrying out can be attributed to mental inertia at an individual or organizational level


Either way, the effects are deleterious on all of us. The whole affects the parts and vice versa. 


In my book, ‘mental inertia’ is different from ‘plain laziness’. For example, once in a while, one may feel lazy to get up early in the morning to go for the routine morning walk. However, this would not deter the person from focusing on his/her work, or reduce their enthusiasm in life overall. On the other hand, mental inertia arises from a lack of emotional engagement or absence of any inner drive to do something worthwhile.


Since they have the financial power to sustain non-value adding activities, large and profitable organizations often become victims of this syndrome. The first signs of this degeneration become evident in the support functions. Gradually and perceptibly  it spreads to the other functions.


Let us take the example of a typical organization that makes its transition from a small entity to a behemoth.


The value added to a start up by each and every employee is clearly discernible. Often, employees may have to go beyond their areas of expertise to meet organizational needs. The Head of Finance may have to be In-charge of Recruitment too, till the organization can afford an HR Head.


The same organization when it grows big, it may carry along some people who will still make value adding contributions, while others who others may survive on the strength of networks cultivated over the years. When these people are rewarded more for ‘the people they know within the organization’ and less for their technical or business competency, they very easily slip into the syndrome of focusing less on their competencies and more on harnessing their networks.


The first sign of mental inertia sets when they start believing that there is nothing more worthwhile than keeping a chosen few happy within the organization. They see no point in trying to do or learn anything new anymore.


To make matters worse, since these so-called managers may have a lot of competent underlings who cover up  for their bosses, they end up sending a signal that ‘competence’ is not a key to success within that organization setting forth a culture of mental inertia across the organization, resulting in destroying value on a collective level


More on this later.


– Venkat Subramaniam




4 responses

11 06 2008

Is the solution to mental inertia, solving crosswords and sudokus? Just kidding !

11 06 2008
Sanjay Nayak

I feel organization needs to constantly throw new challenges at managers by taking them out of the comfort zone. This would keep them on their toes and not let them survive on the past laurels.

11 06 2008

Many a times, there are no concrete plans to groom people for the leadership position especially in the new age industries where business maturity level is still at its infancy (revenue is not always directly proportional to business wisdom). In course of working in the organization, some people climb up to the leadership roles by virtue of their technical skills, internal networking, proximity to someone powerful, situational advantage etc. Once they found themselves in the leadership position, they feel the need to develop themselves for those finer qualities that the roles demands. But due to day to day business pressure & firefighting they just can’t catch up and take refuge under quick fixes or leadership band-aids for survival. The cascading effect of this syndrome percolates down the organization and “whom you know” supersedes “what you know”.

11 06 2008

Not adding value is not the same as destroying value.

I did not quite understand, how these managers with mental inertia destroy value.
Do they destroy value by taking wrong decisions ?
Do they destroy value by interfering in the work of juniors/peers who add value ?
Do they spoil the organization culture by promoting mediocrity and discouraging meritocracy ?
Do they tarnish the image of their company in the eyes of the client, because of their ignorance ?

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