Booktopia Interview

What is The Big Mo about?
It’s about the huge impact that momentum now has on our lives. For the first time in history, momentum operates on a global scale and exerts a powerful influence over economics, politics, the media, climate change and society. Momentum is the new Zeitgeist. This influence can be very destructive. For example, momentum – or Big Mo – was the real driver of the global financial crisis. This book sheds some light on this mysterious and powerful phenomenon.

Why is momentum so much more influential today, than say 20 years ago?
Because the world is now much more interconnected through communications and technology, which accelerates the speed at which events unfold and magnifies their impact. This generates a lot of momentum which makes us acutely vulnerable to crises such as financial meltdowns, geopolitical upheavals, and technological breakdowns. A problem in one part of the system also spreads more rapidly to other parts of the system. Everything affects everything else – which creates a multiplier effect.

What inspired you to write this book?
During the height of the financial crisis, I became frustrated that no one could explain to me what caused it. I was a senior executive at a global bank (UBS) with access to the best advice. But every expert had a different opinion. So I decided to conduct my own analysis. I soon came across some remarkable research by three London academics which suggested that momentum exerts a larger influence on financial markets than previously assumed. I discovered that this momentum effect extended way beyond the financial markets, and that its influence was increasing.

How does Big Mo affect other aspects of our lives?
Practically every dimension of lives today is affected by momentum. It’s the price we pay for living in such a highly interconnected, technologically dependent society. Consider the way the news media now works. Once a story gains traction – even if it is false – it soon develops so much self reinforcing momentum that it becomes difficult to challenge. This explains why, for example, it took the media so long to challenge the legitimacy of the second Iraq War, or to question the sustainability of the US housing boom before it crashed. Politics is another field that has succumbed to the Big Mo. Candidates will do whatever it takes to build ‘momentum’ for their campaign. It’s the same in business where senior executives have become obsessed with generating market momentum, in order to keep the value of their share options rising. So they think opportunistically rather than strategically. The higher echelons of business and government are increasingly occupied by people with a momentum-driven outlook. Such people are highly skilled at surfing the Big Mo regardless of the direction in which it is heading.

What was the most surprising thing you discovered about momentum?
The biggest surprise was that large, efficient organisations are more susceptible to the momentum effect than smaller, less efficient ones. This is because momentum feeds on an organisation’s internal efficiency to become self reinforcing – which can spiral out of control. This explains why, for example, it was the biggest and most sophisticated global banks that were most affected by the financial crisis rather than the smaller, less efficient banks that had not updated their computer systems for years. The global ‘megabanks’ generated so much Big Mo, that it also destabilised the entire financial system. It’s the same for other industries, and even economies. The more advanced and efficient they are, the more vulnerable they are to momentum. Efficiency and scale is not always a good thing. It can work against us.

Why should people read The Big Mo?
Because it will change the way they think about how the world works. It shows how easily we can become swept up in momentum without even realising it. To a very real extent, momentum rules our world today. It’s important that we know about this force that drives so much of human and organisational behaviour. Hopefully, readers will also find The Big Mo a fascinating and entertaining read.