“cadence, boy, is the key to everything, you better learn to pace yourself.”

Patty Hurst Shifter <acetylene>


“Jumping from boulder to boulder and never falling, with a heavy pack, is easier than it sounds; you just can’t fall when you get into the rhythm of the dance.”
Jack Kerouac


One of the most difficult things in business is how to excel at a specific project/initiative and, yet, have that ‘best’ fit within the greater business system to make it better. This came to mind when I read Dr Leda Glyptis’ piece on “how do you eat an elephant.” Suffice it to say the majority of business people will agree on “bite off small pieces and get shit done”, yet, the majority will also find that while that one piece done well was truly was excellent it still didn’t ‘fit’ into the existing system and ended up at least partially being a waste of time. The intent was good, but work ended up in no-mans-land. This is a parts and whole discussion and it is never easy. It is a systems discussion and that is never easy. I face this every day, in some form or fashion, in almost every business discussion I have. This often appears in conversations under the larger heinously less-than-useful label of ‘transformation’, but I am fairly confident most business people ask these following two questions all the time:

  • How do I get good shit done when it seems like the system, overall, needs to be fixed?
  • Should I simply focus on my one part and get that done believing by improving that I will end up improving everything (or at least get the ball rolling on larger improvements)?

Here is where I, personally, begin this discussion.


Every business has a cadence. A rhythm it seems to work to. Now. It isn’t just one cadence, but a coherence of cadences. What I mean by that is there are systems within the system and each system has a cadence of its own. That said. The effective organization cadence accommodates each sub-cadence. This becomes important when it comes to initiatives and innovations and even basic projects. Your job’s output, to be successful, has to dance with all other systems. This dance is more like one of those huge ballroom things where partners get exchanged at different points in the dance. It isn’t always seamless but, yet, the dance (viewed from overhead) has a sense of coherence and cadence.

Anyway. Everyone just should accept the reality every organization has a cadence (usually captured in a description like ‘vibe’ or ’energy’ but is actually more a reflection of how the system works). It is, in essence, what we generally feel. The danger resides in the failure to acknowledge this ‘vibe’ is a complex mix of pacing and cadence dynamics – individuals, cliques, teams, tribes, departments, even individual projects. Even a Porsche engine has slow moving, even solid, pieces in combination with pieces moving at rates almost invisible to the eye. Organizations are systems and systems have parts and parts move at different paces so that the totality works efficiently & effectively.

To be clear. Cadence is difficult to understand in an organization. It is difficult because of how, conceptually, layered the problem of cadence is. And, yes, it is a problem. It is a problem because no layer (or dancer) remains in ‘neutral’ nor is it neutral in its motivation nor its impact. Ponder.


Every business has an institutional gravity. I imagine someone could call this culture, but I will not. I simply suggest that left to its own devices an organization will pull things to the ground. You have to see and sense the organizational gravity in order to (a) fly or (b) simply keep things from crashing.

A unique feature of a conserving institution, or even an industry, is a strong center of gravity.

** note: this can be good – as in a vision or principles – or it can be bad – status quo or thinking the way things have always worked is key to optimizing – or it can be even badder – as in power dynamics.

This center of gravity is good important because, in its conserving energy, it keeps all the expended energy from flying off into chaos, albeit it can also be bad important in that it sacrifices progress in doing. Gravity keeps the business institution grounded, but the danger resides in that the institution has all the feeling of speed and achievements and all the while it’s just one huge hamster wheel, i.e., they absorb piecemeal projects to create an illusion of progress while maintaining the status quo.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out status quo is a tricky topic. The truth is a conserving institution can purchase a startup with progressive ideas or thinking and, yet, because it is a conserving institution, they can use it to maintain the status quo. To the outside world they are ‘showing progress’, yet, all they are doing is maintaining the status quo. This is the illusion of progress and that is where gravity dictates organization behavior. Ponder.


How did I arrive at this way of thinking?

Although I have nothing, or little, to do with advertising anymore I began my career in account management. My job was to insert myself into businesses and without getting lost in their business uncover & discover opportunities in which my advertising agency could offer creative value to create value for their business. I found fairly quickly in order for my business (the agency) to be successful it needed to offer solutions that could dance within the existing cadence of the business as well as, if not more importantly, didn’t defy the business gravity – but could fly.


Because I have danced around some system thinking concepts in this piece, I will end with one: leverage points. Systems within systems always have leverage points. I will not suggest they are always easy to find in fact they are fairly often elusive (that’s a natural characteristic of a complex system). That said. There are leverage points that can affect the cadence and gravity or simply how a system works (effectiveness) within the existing cadence and gravity. Everyone should always have their head on a swivel looking for those. To be clear. There will always be false prophets who will shout from their podium that “this is the one to change it all!” and part of good business is attempting to separate the wheat from the chaff. But a leverage point is a leverage point and when found and exploited well it makes a difference – to the team working on the part and the greater system within which it works. Maybe what I am saying is that biting off a piece of an elephant, if that piece represents a leverage point, can be quite useful. But I am also saying that simply biting off any piece of the elephant is more likely to be less-than-useful energy expended.

Even elephants have a cadence and gravity. Ponder before you try and eat one.

Written by Bruce