George Arents Collection, The New York Public Library. "Zig-zag approaches." The New York Public Library Digital Collections.
We've all heard of Sir Isaac Newton's three laws of motion in colloquial language ("a body in motion stays in motion," etc.).
Here they are, taken directly from his Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy1:
Every body continues in its state of rest, or of uniform motion in a right line, unless is it compelled to change that state by forces impressed upon it.
The change of motion is proportional to the motive force impressed; and is made in the direction of the right line in which that force is impressed.
To every action there is always opposed an equal reaction; or, the mutual actions of two bodies upon each other are always equal, and directed to contrary parts.
While these axioms specifically address physical objects and their movement, they also apply to how businesses behave.
For example, a company will keep on doing the same thing, absent any kind of external force on it (Law 1). Corrective actions that a business takes will typically be in proportional response to an external force (Law 2). For example, prices will rise proportional to the level of supplier price increases. And typically companies will retreat in the opposite direction of an impact (Law 3); think of Facebook's constant retreat at public outcry of its privacy policies early on.
It seems like companies are in a constant state of back-and-forth on following trends, using different marketing techniques, etc. So that for every "let's pivot to video!" there's also a "let's get back to the basics of email." It's like a pendulum swinging from one side to the other.
Which is why, while I was at Ford, so much of our communications and marketing efforts amounted to zigging while the competition was zagging. As soon as the other automakers picked up on what we were doing, we'd be off in another direction (Law 3).
But because there will always be external forces, business can't act like Newton's cradle. Eventually that energy runs out, and the objects settle in the middle.
Be prepared for wild swings in your industry and your company. But use that center area to keep your strategy grounded as the laws of motion hurl you from one side to another.
1Newton, Sir Isaac, "Axioms, or Laws of Motion," 34. Newton Huygens, p. 14, Great Books of the Western World, Mortimer J. Adler, Associate Editor. Encyclopedia Britannica: Chicago, 1952.