Steady State vs Tempo

It’s helpful at work to understand things at work change from time to time and to consider the impact on you and the people you work with as the changes occur. While it may seem obvious, it’s easy to get fooled into thinking that the current state of things is the new normal, or to not realize that you’re in an unusual but impermanent situation.

To help in that understanding I apply two different concepts, steady state and tempo. Let’s start with tempo. Drawn from a concept in music, I learned it in the military as operations tempo. Life there can be slow (garrison) or fast (training), or even faster (war). Faster op tempo is fun, but it takes its toll on people and machinery and budget. It’s often necessary, but it’s equally necessary that you can only maintain that tempo for so long without degrading the ability of the force (team). What’s your tempo at work right now? Are you working at a calm, sustainable pace, or are you pushing for a few minutes, or are you in an all out sprint? How long will the current tempo last?

Steady state comes from cosmology, electronics,and a few others ,but means a system in balance. I overload that to mean the place where the nature of the work is fully understood and has been integrated into daily operations. Think about integrating a new product or service at work. It can take days to months to get it to that steady state where you and your users understand how it works and how to maintain it. Until you get there it’s often discovery by stepping in new potholes until you find them all. May or may not be fun based on how you see the world. Think about what you’re working on right now, is it steady state work where you know what to do, or are you still discovering new problems?

Put together in my low budget matrix you can see how the two concepts combine. Get into a situation where you’re at a high tempo and in an un-steady state and you (and your org) are under stress. Knowing it doesn’t change it, but you can plan for it, and plan for a time when you’ll roll one of the two back to something less impactful.

Temp/State Steady Not so Steady
Low Life is Good Life Ain’t Bad
High Life Ain’t Bad
Life is Hard!

Hope you find it a useful way to see work and life.