Why I Hopped off the Hamster Wheel

I had hoped 2022 would be different. Instead, day one, day two, day three, everything felt like more of the same. Difficult. With no obvious, available egress into the new. Going in circles like a hamster on a wheel. I’m pretty certain that everyone felt the same and if instead of using 2022, we just continued writing or saying 2021, no one would even notice or care.

How dispiriting. And when you are in a growth focused business role, it can be especially detrimental as your eyes aren’t quite open to opportunities nor are you able to challenge your thinking in an effective manner to drive a greater good.

But, alas, a bright spot! A few days into the year, I had a period of self-awareness. I realized this mindset was unproductive both professionally and personally and I needed to reset the way I viewed the year and the world. While acknowledging there was much about early ‘22 that was a continuation of the trials of the previous year, I began to seek a different way of looking at these common conditions.

What, you may ask, precipitated this change in mindset?

Well, it was, in essence, spinning my self-imposed vision of being trapped on a hamster wheel and instead seeing myself on a flywheel. A simple change. But one with an immediate uplifting effect. Whereas a hamster wheel is for the frantically confined, a flywheel can power consistent, continuous change. A flywheel is the main wheel of a larger motor that increases overall momentum and power production. In business circles, a flywheel effect occurs when small wins (or benefits) accumulate, creating increasing benefits over time. So no longer did I see the world in terms of an endless loop with no points of ingress and egress, but instead as empowering an adaptive and evolving position.

Now, as I take a flywheel approach to problem solving, I see the possibilities for innovation. Capabilities and conditions emerge, and a self-reinforcing virtuous circle becomes the path forward rather than just more of the same.

Aside from the benefits of daily meditations that facilitated this self-awareness, there were two other elements that allowed me to see the world differently.

The first was taking on a new way of thinking holistically about products and services. In my case, that meant thinking about our client’s complete loan and lease lifecycle and how our business was positioned to solve them. I had started the year, actually the new century I suppose, with a focus on individual products and services. I simply wasn’t seeing the benefits of integrated products and services operating in harmony, until I was drawn to the power of a flywheel.

The second was testing my thoughts on the application of the flywheel model to new peers. No matter your years or decades of experience, it’s daunting to have your strategic thinking tested or challenged by others – especially when their experiences and points of reference vary widely from yours. It’s common to hold tight to what you think correct. Or disregard their expertise and think “they” would agree if they only knew what you knew. That is especially true when seeing the world from the lens of the closed hamster wheel, where there is no room for new ideas or new approaches, and everything looks the same.

However, when you see the world from the flywheel, you see with eyes open to opportunities. You see new ideas emerge as you move forward, generating power, gaining momentum, improving your mental construct, and enjoying a change in attitude. From here, insights from new peers enhance your perspective and allow you to see that what lies ahead is change and change will be different and ultimately better.

From hamster wheel to flywheel, I’m in a more productive mindset for 2022 and hope you also find your model for this year and beyond.

Charles Sutherland, chief strategy officer, defi SOLUTIONS, has more than 25 years in technology management and strategy with companies such as Sagent Lending Technologies, Fiserv, and Accenture. At defi, Charles leads strategy, product management, and marketing with a focus on improving the experience of lenders and consumers.