Monday, September 28, 2009

And Now, Class...a New Word

Hysteresis is a new word I learned this weekend. It describes the lag phenomenon between when a cause has been applied to an object or a system and when the effect occurs. Think about pushing on a foam pad. The foam doesn’t automatically pop back out, it takes a few seconds. That’s hysteresis.

The word comes from the Greek, husteros, which means late. The ultimate state of hysteresis is when a cause is applied that makes the system snap in such a way that it can’t be fixed; it won’t bounce back to its original state. Think what happens when you bend a plastic ruler until it breaks, or you drop a lightbulb.

The word is usually used in physics and metalwork. However, hysteresis is being used to refer to the economy and the question is, “Is the economy broken in a way that can’t be fixed?”

But, the word can also be used to refer to other issues such as relationships, business practices, or habits. When a business offers training or announces a new change, if it takes the employees awhile to implement the training…to get it…that’s hysteresis.

In relationships of all types things change, one person has a new idea or perspective and it may take the other person or people awhile to catch up to the new concept or understanding. That’s hysteresis.

However, some people don’t want to catch up, or change, and it could be for a variety of reasons. Habits, in action or thought, are hard to change.

Here’s today’s point: Some people and situations will not change. Sometimes we have to understand that the situation has evolved to a point at which it can’t or won’t bounce back. At that point you have a decision to make: Put up with things the way they are, or make more permanent corrections.

I see this all the time in business. An organization is attempting to change with the times and some employees just don’t or won’t get it. If the company can’t find a productive position for the laggers they are either tolerated (to the detriment of the organization) or, mercifully, moved out. Again, the time it takes from cause to decision/action is hysteresis.

In today’s world, the shorter the lag, the shorter the hysteresis, the better off you are.

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