The Pendulum

Verne Wheelwright's picture

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by pendulums. Mostly in clocks, then in Poe’s story, “The Pit and the Pendulum.” Then there was the huge pendulum at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry when I was about twelve—it made quite an impression on me.

My first introduction to thinking about the future came at about the same time, when my mother explained to me that some things in life are like the pendulum. She used politics as an example, saying that politicians (and political parties)tend to move in one direction to an extreme—a point which the public will no longer tolerate— then they reverse and start moving in the other direction.Eventually, the political environment will reach the opposite extreme, and once again the pendulum will reverse its course.

This pendulum analogy can be seen in many areas of society beyond politics. Business is greatly affected by trends that move in one direction until they lose popularity and collapse into a reversal. The pendulum effect can probably be seen in your own family. Maybe the family loves pizza, but eats pizza so often that eventually no one wants pizza any more. Or the family buys a boat, and spends every bit of free time on the boat, until it becomes boring. Then the boat hardly ever leaves the dock any more.

In short the pendulum effect carries fads, movements and interests in one direction until interest can no longer be sustained and the pendulum falls. Or the trend can no longer be sustained and collapses.

Awareness (and fear) of the pendulum phenomenon sometime drives businesses to create change in their products and services (as Facebook seems to be doing now) to renew interest and keep up the momentum. Products are frequently labeled “New Formula!” or “All New!” in hopes of avoiding or at least postponing the loss of enthusiasm for the product.

In our own lives, Mother Nature brings about substantial change in our lives about every ten years, as she introduces a new life stage. Just when you are sure you can’t cope with teens any longer, they mature into young adults. Later, when you’ve pondered the question, “Is this all there is to life?” you move into a new stage of discretionary time, choices, and new independence.
Today, social media seems to be extremely popular, but the key word is “extremely.” Pew Research suggests that “Cell phone owners between 18 and 24 exchange an average of 109.5 messages in a normal day—“(Joe McKendrick blog).

Webinars are another example. I used to find them interesting and educational—until I received so many invitations to webinars daily that I’ve nearly given up on them. When people are faced with overload, the excitement of innovation fades, and we may be seeing signs of overload now. The pendulum may be ready to swing for some technologies.

In people’s lives, young people starting a family offer an example. With children, the apartment or small house becomes intolerable, and they move into a larger home. But, when the family is grown and the nest empties, the maintenance and taxes on the large home become intolerable, so it is time for something smaller. In one’s career, a new job with travel, responsibilities and a pay check is exciting. But with time the responsibilities grow, the travel becomes excessive and the paycheck is just not enough anymore, so change may become the best choice.

The pendulum concept is just one way to watch for changes coming in your own life, but it’s an effective way to gauge your own tolerance level for what is happening in your life. When the pendulum can rise no further, change is about to happen.