Turning the Flywheel and What Spins Off

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February 28, 2020
Thoughts by
Tyler Hagler

Is there an underlying logic to your organization’s activities?

Can you point to connective tissue between those activities?

With Jim Collin’s concept of the Flywheel, he articulates an analogy of building momentum towards success. Imagine how those first steps of turning a flywheel take enormous effort as you struggle to complete a loop. Then, it gets slightly easier as you make a second pass around the loop. As you complete each loop, it gets easier and faster as momentum builds and you’ve created an unstoppable engine for progress. Like turning a heavy flywheel, organizations engage in consistent disciplined actions that follow a logical sequence. Whether you have three steps or ten, (4-5 is best) the process should loop back around to complete a turn of the Flywheel. 

While I have known of the Flywheel ever since reading Good to Great in 2006, we haven’t tried to put it into practice until this year. Starting in March 2019, we discontinued using the Rock framework from the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS). We found that Rocks proved to be burdensome to the team when layered on top of immediate priorities and were quickly moved to the back burner. Over time, we would remind ourselves of the Rocks established a few months prior, then realize the strategic needs of the organization had shifted. In short, the concept of Rocks didn’t help our organization stay current with strategic priorities as reality shifts.

Disciplined Process

At Trig, we try to make strategy-building as inclusive as possible. All of us are definitely smarter than any one of us. To get started on the Flywheel process, we first introduced the Flywheel concept to the team, then dedicated two hours of our quarterly meeting to asking three questions:

What replicable successes have we achieved?

What failures and disappointments come to mind?

What do these successes and failures tell us about the possible components of our flywheel, and what isn’t in our flywheel?"

We captured those hard truths digitally on a virtual whiteboard so that everyone had the chance to express the joys, frustrations, and aspirations of working at Trig. Then, we asked each person to propose their own version of the Trig Flywheel at our next meeting. The range of ideas and comments were fantastic - far better than what I had come up with on my own.

It is important to note here that this was not a linear process. Yes, it was a disciplined process, but we allowed ourselves the time to really wrestle with the issues being raised. We tabled the discussion and revisited it several times. The development of the Trig Flywheel over time was especially helpful, being able to come back and react to what we'd created previously. We didn’t want to rush to a quick answer at the expense of the right answer. That means having the patience to back up and question assumptions.

Levels of Alignment

Sifting through our various challenges several weeks later, Kelly Harrigan wisely pointed out that we were mixing the levels of concepts. Some challenges were high-level and others more mundane, but equally valid. Sifting through which of these challenges were relevant to the Flywheel became problematic, but thanks to Andrew DiMeo, we had a ready-made framework for this problem, the Levels of Alignment.

With the Levels of Alignment framework, each element is the Why to the element below and the How to the element above. One can ask “Why?” about anything and end up at ambiguous visions such as happiness, world peace, or reduced suffering. To go back down the levels, we ask “How?” to spread out into infinitely fractal possible solutions like a triangle. Correctly placing elements on the same level is a way to organize and prioritize among disparate ideas. Applying the Levels of Abstraction exercise allowed us to make the Trig Flywheel more coherent and appropriately leveled, but we've had success helping our clients with research planning and ideation sessions using this same framework.

The Trig Flywheel

Great Team / Great Clients

The top of our flywheel starts with lining up a match between having great team members and great clients. While we have long been hiring, promoting, and firing team members based on values alignment, we are  also recognizing that our best work with clients comes when our values are shared.

Great Outcomes

If we pair great industrial designers with great clients following great process and a common purpose, we can’t help but have great outcomes. This means we can show off case studies, design awards, and see more client referrals.

Brand Power

If we consistently produce great outcomes for our clients that can be demonstrated through great content, then we can’t help but increase the influence of our brand and that of our clients.

Generates Interest

if we have a strong brand, then that naturally generates interest from new clients. We then need to run a great proposal process that captures our clients’ vision for an engagement and translates it into a clearly defined project that is set up to produce great outcomes.

Great Opportunities

Once we have earned the business of a new client, then we need to fulfill our promise. This means great communication and excellent work that aligns with the creative intent. As we do great work, we naturally retain great clients, and are able to maintain our commitment to building community, which leads to the next stage of the Flywheel and completes a turn.  

Disciplined Action

Innovation almost never fails due to lack of creativity. It almost always fails due to lack of discipline. The challenge of having a team of brilliant creative people is that we often create value that doesn’t fit within established processes and business models. Early on, I had described Trig’s service offering as, “Not something for everyone, but everything for someone.” With the Flywheel process now clearly defined, our scope is more narrow than before and our processes much more robust. When Andrew approached me early on with the idea to build a software package to address the glaring problems we saw with the digital whiteboard tools, I had to decline it as an internal Trig initiative. Trig would be an enthusiastic customer and evangelist of such a software company, but it doesn’t fit our Flywheel or business model.

In September-October of 2019, Andrew and I began to seriously contemplate a phased transition for the spin-off. With the public launch of CanvasGT on February 17th, 2020, we entered the second phase of this exciting opportunity. Andrew continues to serve as Innovation and Design Coach at Trig, while also leading CanvasGT as Founder and CEO. We like to say that there are only two emotions when running a startup; euphoria and terror. Without giving away too much, what Andrew and his team have built in such a short time frame is truly impressive. I'm so incredibly proud of what they are doing and can't wait to deploy their solutions for both our clients and our internal virtual meetings. The entire Trig team is cheering on CanvasGT as they enter the entrepreneurial arena.

Tyler Hagler

As a career industrial designer and innovation practitioner, Ty Hagler has managed hundreds of new product development programs through the process of opportunity identification guided to commercialization.


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