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What is leverage and what does it do for us?

The word leverage has become increasingly common in recent years, and I’ve noticed that it’s not always adequately explained, and this can lead to misunderstanding of what it actually means and why the concept is so useful for us.

Leverage is critical to building a meaningful business. In fact, I believe that it’s critical to building a meaningful life. Let’s take a look at what it is and how we can use it to improve our world.

What is a lever?

The simplest way that I have found to envision a lever is to think of a see-saw.

The lever mechanism itself consists of a rod or beam which can pivot on a point, known as a fulcrum. So when you think of a see-saw, the board going across is the rod, and the central spring is the fulcrum.

Now imagine that your friend is sitting on one end of the see-saw.

Naturally, that end is down toward the ground, and the other end is up in the air. Your friend constitutes the resistance, or the load. This is the thing you will affect with leverage.

Now, you jump up onto the high end of the see-saw. Naturally, given how the see-saw is constructed, in the form of a lever, as you apply your weight or effort to your side, the side your friend is sitting on will go up.

The relative ease and speed with which the resistance is lifted will depend on the size of the load (that is to say, the size of your friend.)

However, even if your friend is larger than you (the load being greater than the input force) you will still have better luck at raising them by the leverage of the see-saw than if you simply tried to pick them up with your arms.

Now, I’m no physicist, so this is about as deep as I’m going to get on the science of the matter. Suffice it to say, however, that when we see how a smaller person can raise the weight of a larger person on the other end of a see-saw, it suggests that something very interesting is at work.

I don’t know about you, but all the see-saws of my playground career have been balanced, that is to say, the fulcrum was directly in the middle. And while that’s quite interesting on its own, things get even more interesting when the fulcrum is placed more toward one end than another.

The law of the lever

The law of the lever…

… shows that if the distance a from the fulcrum to where the input force is applied (point A) is greater than the distance b from fulcrum to where the output force is applied (point B), then the lever amplifies the input force.

Pretty cool, right?

Have you ever used a ripper bar?

For those of us who have pulled up carpet in advance of restoring a hardwood floor, we can think of all the nails that need to be removed from the floor prior to sanding. There are tiny nails running lengthwise along the boards, which held down the carpet pad. These come up relatively easily – often you can push the long end of a ripper bar across the floor and pop them out one after another with minimal effort. (Do wear eye protection if you try this, please.)

Then you get to the edge of the floor, where you encounter much larger and stronger nails. These nails have served to hold a wooden tack-strip in place, or worse yet, a metal threshold in a doorway.

These nails can be more challenging to remove with the long end of the bar. However, the short end works like a charm. In this situation, the law of the lever is in play, because the distance between the place where you’re applying the pressure (the end of the long part) is further away from the fulcrum (the angle of the crowbar) than the part which is facing the resistance or load (the slot on the short end in which you’ve jammed the nail-head.)

Why should we care?

What does it have to do with anything, you ask?

The examples of the see-saw and the crowbar are physical examples of leverage. And yet leverage as a concept can show up (and be applied) outside of the physical world. And it can help us with so many things, if we understand how it works.

Is your lever truly amplifying the input force?

The term leverage is widely used in my organization. We might say that we’re “highly-leveraged” because we’re paying money for people, systems or tools that are supposed to get things done for us. Maybe this is useful, maybe it’s not. The test is whether the lever amplifies the input force.

How does this show up with people?

If you hire somebody to do something for you, and that person you hire actually does it WAY better than you could ever do it, resulting in a far superior outcome for your organization than what you could have generated with your own efforts.

How does it show up with a system or a tool?

By following or using either, your results are amplified. You get more of them, for less strenuous input.

OR, perhaps the leverage allows you time to focus on something different which, in turn, amplifies your desired outcome.

Either way, it’s useful to ask the question of whether or not the supporting element (system, tool or person) is actually creating leverage by amplifying the input force.

We can determine this through regular and systematic measurement of our output over time.

How do you see leverage showing up in your world?

Do you see it in your business, or perhaps in your home life?

Connect with me on social media to share your thoughts!





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