Is Your Business Under Tension or Compression?
In engineering, there are two primary types of stress on a structure: Compression and Tension.
Compression is when the weight (stress) compresses the load bearing element. If you stack a pile of bricks, those bricks are under compression. There is a point when the compression of the pile will cause the bottom brick to fail. When it fails from the weight pushing down on it, it will spread out and shatter. The second brick is now absorbing the compression weight of the remaining bricks above it. Will it hold? In theory, it could because adding the brick at the top increased the load on the bottom brick by the amount necessary to trigger failure. One less brick at the top means a little less compression. But the failed brick probably left behind an unstable foundation and the whole pile will likely fail.
Tension is stress that causes elongation. If we make 2 stacks of bricks and then span the gap with a piece of wood, the wood is under tension. If you add weight to the wood, like a bridge, the wood will bow. That is a tension force. Add more weight to the board and the bricks will hold but the board will fail under tension. Adding weight away from the center of the board will convert some of the stress to compression because force (weight) will be transferred to the bricks.
Look at the tree in the middle. WOW. It’s nearly 100 feet tall. These trees grow very slowly and this tree could be 125 years old. The wood is very dense. I had to cut the dead ones up and a log can weigh 50-75 pounds. In other words, there is a lot of weight being supported by the root system of this tree. Is the weight in tension or compression?
Both. A straight tree is under compression mostly. But a bent tree is dealing with downward force and lateral pressures from the weight being off center. Add a wind load and this tree is under tremendous stress. And it’s survived 125 years. Pretty remarkable.
Now consider your business. There are compression stresses that come from above and there are tension stresses that come from every direction. All that stress can make failure happen in key areas. A person can fail, a system can fail or the whole business can fail under load.
Can we learn from the tree?
How does the tree do it?
First, there is no unnecessary load. If a branch dies, it falls away.
The tree is flexible. Wood can bend as needed. So this tree can move around a lot when it’s very windy. It doesn’t snap, or hasn’t yet and I’ve seen this tree dancing in some serious wind. Being flexible makes wood a terrific building material in earthquake zones.
The curves assist the tree in supporting weight. True. Arches are a great example of a curve dealing with tension and compression. In wind, three is able to distribute the stress. Pretty amazing. What appears to be a flaw is actually an advantage. But trees are supposed to be straight. Look at the others.
If you take the time to do a little thought exercise about your business, you can make it stronger.
Where is your business under a lot of compression? What about tension? Take time to think deeply about this and you will find places where you can strengthen your business.
Science is fun and it can help your business. The key is taking the time to think.
Chris Reich, BizPhyZ