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The Inertia of Legacy: A Science Geek’s Guide To Managing Your Legacy

Understanding inertia and applying the concept to seemingly routine life choices will enable you to understand and appreciate the forces that are influencing your current trajectory.
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the inertia of legacy: a science geek’s guide to managing your legacy

This article is an excerpt from “The Inertia of Legacy: Using Newton's Laws for Personal and Professional Transformation, A Science Geek's Guide to Managing Your Own Legacy" by Chris Cline. It has been reprinted with permission from Wells Media.

What happens when you mix a scientist's curiosity with an artist's vision? You get Cline's perspective on the Inertia of Legacy. In this book, Cline takes the scientific law that nothing changes unless acted on by an outside force. Then, he reclaims the definition of the term legacy. Lately used to indicate something that is old, out of date, or unchanging, the term legacy speaks of the story that we leave to the future.

By blending inertia and legacy, Cline wants to help us to make the effort today, so that our future stories are what we want them to be.

Cline is a career insurance professional and has established himself as an industry resource for topics such as perpetuation, mergers & acquisitions, culture, agency operations, marketing and sales, data and analytics, and technology. The book was inspired by his life-long interest in the sciences and philosophy and how the seemingly disparate concepts can connect to help us in our professional and personal lives.


In his work, the world was introduced to Isaac Newton's laws of motion, one of which is inertia. The other two are very much worth mentioning here as they are highly instrumental in ultimately articulating how inertia connects to legacy.

For total context, here are Newton's three laws of motion:

1) An object at rest remains at rest, and an object in motion remains in motion at a constant speed and in a straight line unless acted on by an unbalanced force. 

2) The acceleration of an object depends on the mass of the object and the amount of force applied. 

3) Whenever one object exerts a force on another object, the second object exerts an equal and opposite force on the first. 

These may ring a bell from our science classes throughout our schooling, but why and how do they remotely connect to personal and professional legacy? That is the core question I'll attempt to address with the Inertia of Legacy. We'll predominantly explore how inertia is truly a key and powerful concept to understand, recognize and manage as you make your way through life with a more intentional and meaningful approach to your legacy. 

Understanding inertia and applying the concept to seemingly routine life choices will enable you to understand and appreciate the forces that are in play in influencing your current trajectory (even if motionless). Ultimately, you can then appreciate the external forces that can, or are needed, to alter your trajectory the way you want to. We'll certainly weave in the other Newton's laws of motion more as they relate to the effort related to change, particularly as you explore your current state and overall level of satisfaction with where you are. 

It may help to visit three scenarios commonly used to explain inertia and the other two laws of motion in most high school physics classes: a ball, an airplane and a gyroscope. We'll work through these quickly, and as we do, I'll begin to challenge you to think about how these can be analogies for your personal or professional lives. If anything, it's a fun thought experiment and a playful way of getting in the overall mood. 

Example 1: A Ball Sitting Motionless on a Table 

The law of inertia clearly states that the ball will sit there motionless forever until an outside force acts upon it. What are some external forces that could impact the inertia of the motionless ball? A child could bump the table, the wind could blow the ball, or a moving ball on the same table could collide with it. Each of these likely changes a motionless ball to a ball in motion. Same ball, but outside forces acted upon it and therefore altered its state of inertia. 

What is not often talked about in the motionless ball example are the forces at play that actually cause or enable the ball to be motionless in the first place. Consider that factors such as gravity, friction and atmospheric pressure all serve roles as external forces that keep the ball in its at-rest state. Each of these must be overcome by something greater than the force they apply to the ball in order to get the ball to move.

But, you can see in this very simple and short example, that there are forces acting on the ball, whether it is motionless or moving. And changing from one state of motion to another requires more force from one state than the other to alter the ball's trajectory. 

Example 2: An Airplane in Flight

This one is unique in that it illustrates inertia from another frame of reference. A flying airplane is a modern miracle of physics and requires many things to go right to happen. But, at the simplest level, with enough speed, a properly designed plane will take flight. But what external forces must it overcome to achieve and maintain flight? Gravity, air resistance and atmospheric pressure quickly come to mind. The plane must overcome the forces that each of these exert in order to fly and must continue to overcome them to remain in the air. We could spend chapters on this but just think about the inertia involved in getting a plane in the air. Now, think about the marvel of breaking the sound barrier! I love this stuff. 

Similar to the ball, there are external factors that can materially impact the inertia of a plane in flight. Some we have mentioned and are very much within the scientific realm. But what I love about this example is that we can start to introduce human error and mechanical failure as critical factors from outside of physics that can absolutely cause an abrupt and catastrophic end to a plane's flight.

There is a real-life application to how both of these factors can be a significant contributor, and a very unexpected contributor, to the inertia of an object. We'll explore this notion of unknown and potentially uncontrollable outside forces later. 

Example 3: Gyroscope

Perhaps you had one of these as a kid, as I did. I love mine and probably had a few of them over the years. I might have had a leg up on some kids as, if you recall, my dad was a mechanical engineer. So, he attempted to teach me more about what was happening and why. But I just recall thinking it was fascinating that the faster I could yank the string and get the inside to spin, the more stable the gyroscope was and how much harder it was to get it to wobble off course. That sounds a lot like inertia to me. 

It further fascinated me then and now that, when completely motionless and not spinning, the gyroscope has similar inertia as the ball. It is motionless due to gravity, friction and atmospheric pressure. It is also highly susceptible to external force. Much like the ball, it takes little external force to move it and knock it around or off of a table. However, if you apply a great deal of targeted and intentional external force to get the inside mechanism to spin really fast, the gyroscope becomes increasingly stable and difficult to move. In fact, you can actually feel the spinning gyroscope “pushing back" on your finger if you attempt to alter its course. More of Newton's laws are at play … among other scientific principles. 

What I really love about the gyroscope is how it brings so much of this together and, with an open mind, it truly illustrates how inertia and legacy work in tandem. After all, it takes a great deal of initial and very intentional energy to get the gyroscope to start spinning. But once it is spinning, it is significantly more stable and resistant to external forces than when it is motionless. 

These common examples of inertia at work serve as an interesting segue and simple opportunity to explore analogies for personal and business life. The examples of a ball, plane and gyroscope hopefully prompted you to think about what it means to be stable or in an aggressive state of motion as well as all the forces working for and against each object. As harmonious as each looks even in an ideal state, they are also on the edge of being materially impacted at a moment's notice. The difference is that we have far more control over the forces working for or against our legacy than we may realize. Our influence is not infinite and without challenge, but with clarity of mission and genuine intention, we can be our own inertia. 

Before we move ahead, I offer three considerations as we work our way through the concepts of the Inertia of Legacy. Each is a direct derivative of Newton's laws and begins to contemplate how they apply to the idea of understanding and taking more control over your own legacy. 

  • Your behaviors and, ultimately, your reputation, are on a path, a trajectory, whether you are managing them or not—remember, all things are in motion or at rest. Are you the motionless ball or the plane in flight? Are you the spinning gyroscope with incredible inertia or motionless and more subject to even small external forces? Are you happy with your current trajectory and the energy … the inertia … you are applying to maintain it? 
  • Your behaviors and reputation will stay on their current course unless you or something else acts (intentionally or not) to change them. How quickly and how significantly you wish to influence change is critical to understand. And you have the ability to manage it. Do you recognize the forces that are enabling your inertia as well as those working against it? What about thinking through what external forces could emerge unexpectedly to alter your trajectory? 
  • The amount of inertia influencing you is reflective of how much change you desire or how much the outside world is influencing you. Considering that legacy involves others' perceptions and beliefs, you will encounter circumstances outside your control. How prepared are you … how stable is your inertia … to experience external force and still manage your legacy?

This might be a spot where you wonder if the person in my past who commented that I connect dots in interesting ways thought I was out of my mind and was just trying to be nice. I promise, we're getting there. This is just part of the ride. Until then, stop and absorb this concept of inertia.

There are no accidental legacies, as all are defined by the amount of intent that goes into defining a desired outcome and how much effort goes into achieving that outcome. This is the Inertia of Legacy. 

Chris Cline is executive director of the Big “I" Agents Council for Technology (ACT). Order “The Inertia of Legacy: Using Newton's Laws for Transformative Change – A Science Geek's Guide to Managing Your Own Legacy" on Amazon.

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Thursday, January 4, 2024
Perpetuation & Valuation
Digital Edition