I learned some really interesting lessons in my high school AP physics class with Mr. Tapper. Impulse, which is an extension of force equals mass multiplied by acceleration, and the physics of pulleys are concepts that really fascinated me. We dove deeper into related topics like types of momentum, coefficient of friction, various calculations, and work. We even got into an interesting discussion about how Mr. Tapper wanted to get a physics equation tattoo (I think the work formula) because it was allegorical to life.
The concept of impulse was and has become, more interesting to me because it was such a simple concept that explained a lot of things in physics and in life. It’s been a while since I was sitting in Block 4 AP Physics class, so I’ll try to explain the formula as best as I can.
I thought impulse was really interesting because in a perfect Newtonian world, one where there are frictionless surfaces and no air resistance, there’s a nifty thing that happens. If you apply force to something, it will move or accelerate. Acceleration is equal to the change in velocity over time. When you get all equation-y, you will get to the impulse formula, force multiplied by time, equals mass multiplied by the change in velocity.
The fascinating thing to me was that in a frictionless world, if you apply a force to an object, that object will move. No matter how big the object is, it will move. What is really cool is that if the object is huge, it’ll move slower, but you can help things move by applying a force for a longer time. If you apply more force or more time, and the mass is consistent, you will get a bigger change in velocity. Force multiplied by time is known as Impulse, and mass multiplied by the change in velocity is known as change in momentum.
Why is this so cool to me?
I want to make the world a better place, and more often than not, that requires making a change. The world is a big place, and sometimes making a change can seem impossible to a tiny insignificant individual like me.
I can only generate so much force by myself! That’s where impulse and momentum come in. I can’t generate a ton of force, but what I can do is be consistent and generate that small amount of force for a long time – a lifetime if necessary. Maybe that’s how I can change the world!
I’ll give some examples relating to work. Mike generates X amount of “force”. I’m not talking about actual force (Newtons), I’m talking about force more abstractly, as things I do to make a change. Mike generates X units of force per day might mean that Mike schedules meetings, plans activities, works with team members, sends e-mails, etc. That’s the force I’m talking about. I think we can all understand how one can only do so much in a day, especially given all of the required tasks that need to be done for work. What is my goal with my “force”? It’s to make a change, or change the momentum of something in my organization or company. This is where the equation came to life for me. If I want to change a small thing, I can apply X amount of “force” in one day, and I’ll probably get a decent change in momentum. If I want to apply the same amount of emails, calls, meetings or “force” to a larger part of the organization in one day, I probably won’t even see the change, which can be disheartening. BUT, I have time on my side. One day of X force barely changes anything to that larger part of the organization, but what about a year of X force? When I apply the same force for a longer period of time, I have the potential to affect the same amount of change to a larger object, or part of my organization. Insignificant Mike can make huge changes just by applying the force that I’m capable of applying, over longer and longer periods of time.
Intuitively, this makes a lot of sense, and many people know this already. I’m sure there are other ways of saying this that would resonate better with some people, but the physics equation just fits so perfectly for me, and maybe it’ll trigger something for others, too.
In a perfect world, if you just kept working on things and trying, you could create massive change in anything. In physics, as in life, things aren’t perfect, and there are almost always things that will create friction and slow you down. The perfect Newtonian world is used to make you understand basic concepts. Once you step outside of the perfect Newtonian world, you start encountering things like friction, and other forces that will make things more complex. The more you want to apply equations to the real world, the more you add to them to account for all these other factors you will encounter.
In companies, there are sticking points, politics, and other friction-like things you need to overcome, as well. You always need to apply more force at the start just to get things moving (start gaining momentum!). It’s kind of amazing how basic concepts in hard science can be expanded to complex life situations.
Let’s talk about friction. Friction is basically the force on an object from other surfaces or objects. A gritty sticky surface, or a politically devise climate with budget limitations, has a lot of friction. A smooth slippery surface, or a positive healthy environment with great leaders, has less friction. There are basically two major forms of friction. Static friction is what keeps a static object from moving. It must be overcome by force to get the object to move. Once the object is moving, the friction between the object and the surface is less and it is referred to as kinetic or dynamic friction. We all know this. It takes more force to get something to start moving (overcome static friction) than it does to keep something moving once it has some momentum (overcoming kinetic friction).
Physics: The object you want to move needs to overcome whatever friction it has with the surface it’s on, and then will have to continuously deal with that surface’s friction and the air resistance around it. That requires more force and time, but can be accounted for.
Life: The thing you want to change needs some heavy initial nudging just to get it moving, and then requires consistent nudging but usually much less nuding to keep it moving.
In physics, the surface or environment preventing change will change as the object moves and will require varying amounts of force. There are all sorts of formulas to predict and account for these things, and the human race has done some amazing things with those formulas.
In life, as you’re pushing a project or an idea along, you will encounter many things that will change the “friction” and require you to adjust to keep the project moving. It’s much harder (for me anyways) to predict and account for real-world abstract projects and the friction I’ll run into. That’s kind of where my knowledge becomes weak enough that I can’t make great connections.
Everything I wrote so far explains some analogies or synchronicities between life and physics. They are cool, but they mean something special to me.
I want to make a change in the world, and sometimes I feel like it might be impossible. The impulse momentum change equation kind of consoles me when I’m frustrated. It helps me understand that when I want to make a big change and I know I’m not capable of generating enough force to make that change quickly, there’s hope. I can’t always generate enough force to create momentum in a short time period and that stinks. What I can do is consistently apply my tiny amount of force over time, and get things moving eventually. That’s something that most people can do. Take the force you can generate and apply it over time. Anyone is capable of making great changes in the world as long as they can stay consistent. It’s a lot easier than you’d think, and there are formulas proving it! I’ve made so many changes people thought were impossible because I just kept applying my force over longer and longer periods of time. Others gave up but I kept sending emails and scheduling meetings and coming up with creative solutions. Eventually, I created momentum. It comes with a catch though. Just like in physics when you’ve spent all this time and force to move an object that object now has momentum. It takes a lot to keep it on course or stop it if you need to. Be warned, all the force that was applied is now with the object and you need to respect it.
Unfortunately, sometimes you can’t generate enough force to get things moving. There are times when it just can’t happen. In physics and in life, there are limitations to what is possible. It’s good to know it, too. Sometimes, even with the best intentions and time, you can’t get things moving. It happens, and it’s ok. In physics, you can typically predict when you can’t move something with tangible formulas. In life, it’s a lot harder to figure that out. It takes a lot of hard lessons and time spent in frustration to predict when something is not actually possible. Even then, you’ll never learn better than when you pour your heart and soul into something and realize there’s no way to move it. You’ll never hustle harder to find creative solutions than when you realize you’re not capable of doing something. Spending time creating change or learning valuable lessons is usually worth it. We all have time. Some more than others, but we only have one life. Get it while you can.