Archimedes and the 72 Hour Rule

Aviv Shahar, President, Aviv Consulting

Archimedes and the 72 Hour Rule

What if I told you that 60% of all strategic breakthroughs are lost? Conservative estimates suggest that people in upper management spend as much as 50% of their day in meetings, and nationally there are upwards of 25 million meetings every day in the U.S. But for all the action items, to-do’s, and game changing ideas, remarkably little innovation actually occurs.

Why would I make such an assertion? The reason is simple and ubiquitous, like the common cold. Great ideas are wasted because we do not follow a simple rule: act now, not later. I also call this “act under the influence” rule The 72 Hour Rule, because this is the window of time that we have to capitalize on breakthrough ideas and learning before the energy release dissipates and cannot be recaptured.

Today’s executives are operating in uncharted waters. Companies are failing faster and falling from greater heights than ever before. A landmark study by the Boston Consulting Group found that 10% of publicly traded companies fail each year and on average do not make it past 30 years of age. Today’s companies have little chance of repeating the longevity of America’s original titans, like J.P. Morgan Chase, Macy’s, and DuPont.

At just this moment in history, the importance of leadership has also reached a pinnacle. Automation and sleek operations systems have made every company capable of participating in the global economy; now the question is who can direct the human brain trust within their organizations to excel? Leaders create the future, and they must empower teams of highly effective, highly trained people to do so.

If executives are to seize the energy of mental breakthroughs and translate them into real world outcomes, they must understand both how we interact with ideas and how we can structure our actions to capitalize on them.

Why Does Takeoff Velocity Matter?

The story of Archimedes’s eureka moment holds an often overlooked detail that is instructive for leaders. Upon realizing the relationship between the mass of his own body and the water displaced from the tub, he did not stay in the tub and think about how the discovery would help him to solve problems. Instead, he ran naked through the streets of Syracuse proclaiming what he had discovered, and immediately set to work defining the mathematical principles behind it.

In other words, he grabbed hold of the idea while it was fresh and set to work capitalizing on his new found realization. The same urgency must exist within organizations if new found knowledge is to be effectual.

We must view the present as a state at rest, a place that can only be left with intention and speed. The gravitational pull of “the way things are” and “how we have always done things” can only be escaped with rapid acceleration. Leaders who design the future for their organizations, instead of merely prepare for it, are those who exercise this principle.

Why 72 Hours?

The duration of time between the energy-filled, all-mental-synapses-firing moment of eureka, to the humdrum, low energy feeling of complacency is 72 hours. It takes a short three days for people to return to tunnel vision, singularly focused on the daily functions of their job.

Change occurs in the way people operate when action aligns with a new feeling and a new thought. For example, it is one thing to learn a new word, and another to use it. You are far more likely to retain that word, use it again in the future, and be able to explain it to others if you immediately take the word off the page and use it in conversation. Our minds are designed to retain ideas and programming that is important to us, and the primary qualifier is: do you use it?

Leaders must drive for immediate action on new ideas. Only by taking the idea off the page and exercising it throughout the organization can it succeed in changing the direction of the company.

These are a few pragmatic steps leaders can take to achieve engagement within 72 hours:

  • Hold meetings in the morning – when people are fresh and there is time left in the day to act
  • Set a follow up check in within 24 hours; not next week
  • Avoid holding important meetings on Friday – right away two days are lost before action is taken
  • Make someone the champion – it is their singular mission to push momentum on the issue
  • Ask everyone to verbalize in their own words what the new direction is: the mind will retain ideas better that it has had to explain
  • Others?

About the Author

Aviv Shahar is president of Aviv Consulting, a strategic innovation consultancy. Fortune 500 companies hire him to help their senior teams create purpose-inspired visions and innovative strategies that drive growth. His book Create New Futures tackles the subject of conversation and how it can be utilized to harness organizations and drive them to produce results.