How I Didn’t Let the Inertia of No Win, and How You Can Beat It, Too

Kathryn HaydonBusiness, Grow Your Creativity

How I Didn’t Let the Inertia of No Win, and How You Can Beat It, Too

By Kathryn P. Haydon

Business, Grow Your Creativity

The other morning I boarded a commuter train inbound to Grand Central Terminal. I chose an early train so I could grab a hot drink and get my shoes shined before my meetings. (Yes, it was a pair purchased that non-obvious day with André-Paul.)

I’ve never before sat in one of those shoe shine chairs in the train station or airport. Have any of the women reading this? But that day my leather shoes were dull and I wanted to get them professionally treated without driving 20 minutes to the nearest shoe repair. 

At the station, I picked up a latte and looked over towards the shoe shine chairs. There was one open. The rest were filled with men. 

Enter the inertia of no.

“Do women even get their shoes shined?” I wondered to myself. “Would it be weird for me to sit up there?” Thinking back to my years of commuting, I couldn’t recall seeing a woman in the shoe shine chair. Ever.

As defined in my latest book, the inertia of no is the set of assumptions or beliefs that impedes opportunity and progressive action. In this situation, my assumption was that women don’t get their shoes shined and therefore I shouldn’t. 

While I wavered in inaction, I looked down at my shoes. They needed care. So I pushed the inertia of no aside, marched up to the open shoe shine chair, and climbed in. 

As I sat there in requisite silence and watched the flowing lines of commuters walk past me, their stares asked, “What are you doing, getting your shoes shined?”

Actually, they weren’t staring nor caring. They weren’t even looking at me. So I forgot about them and watched my shoes transform. I felt almost giddy as I walked to my meeting, stealing a few downward glances at my glimmering shoes. 

As it turns out, it was my own bias that had threatened to impede my action. It was all in my head. To arrive at my meeting with nice-looking shoes, I had to break through it. I had to take action to overcome the hidden resistance. 

This is a minor example of the inertia of no. When we practice breaking through it in small instances like this one we become better prepared to do the same when the stakes are higher. What if this had instead been a bias about what I was allowed to contribute at work? What if it had been a fear that kept me from voicing a new insight? 

It’s important to be aware of the ways in which the inertia of no comes to us during a regular day. Often, we can spot them in language such as: 

  • It’s impossible.
  • That’s not how it’s supposed to be done. 
  • It’s never worked so I’m not even going to try. 
  • We’re stuck.
  • People might laugh or stare.

(Paraphrased from The Non-Obvious Guide to Being More Creative)

What are all the ways, big and small, that you encounter the inertia of no? Take some time to jot a list.  Keep adding to it as you go through your day. When you encounter an inertia of no situation, break through it right then or devise a strategy to help you do so next time. 

With practice, it will become second nature to spot the blocks and break through them by taking action. This will pave the way for more robust creative thinking and freedom in your work and life. 


Kathryn Haydon helps you maximize your creative strengths so you can do your best work. Through keynotes, workshops, and consulting, she trains individuals, leaders, and teams to find the unique spark that leads to deep engagement and productivity.

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