The Lever, The Fulcrum, and Great Work

"Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world." -Archimedes

Archimedes was an Ancient Greek mathematician, scientist, engineer, philosopher, inventor and all around badass.

Among hundreds of inventions and discoveries, it is Archimedes who is credited with defining the principle of the lever. (source)

You probably know what a lever is, but just to clarify (thanks Merriam-Webster):

  • a strong bar that is used to lift and move something heavy
  • something used to achieve a desired result

Today, the idea of a lever seems pretty ordinary, but in 200-300 BC, it was groundbreaking.

Archimedes clarified mathematically that a lighter, smaller object can move a much larger, heavier object, given the right circumstances.

More importantly, it showed us that effort and results are not linear; that we can put in less effort and get better results with the right tools applied the right way.

The Lever Isn’t Enough

Here’s the thing:

The lever by itself is not enough.

For a lever to unleash its power, it requires a fulcrum.

What’s a fulcrum?

Merriam-Webster once more:

  • the support about which a lever turns
  • one that supplies capability for action

If we have nothing to set our lever against, the positive effects of the lever disappear.

So what if we have all the tools, all the drive, and all the technology at our disposal if we have nothing to set it against; nothing that supplies the capability for action?

The lever becomes a paperweight, our work - just more noise...

The Lever and Fulcrum in War

In the military, I was Logistics by trade (88A then 90A for the three people in the world who want to know that).

But when I deployed to Iraq, instead of running logistical operations, I served as a Convoy Security Platoon Leader for my Battalion. Instead of organizing and hauling supplies, I led over 10 guntrucks and 30+ soldiers with a mission to protect the convoys that went out every night.

guntruck platoonThe purpose of these missions was always the same: to resupply the combat arms units in our Brigade so they could continue their mission.

In the context of warfare, combat arms units (infantry, artillery, armor, etc.) are the lever. They are the units that we use to achieve a desired action.

But combat service support units (transportation, logistics, etc.) are the fulcrum. They supply the capability for action.

Without resupply, combat arms units can’t accomplish their mission. The lever is useless.

Without combat arms units, there’s no purpose behind combat service support. The fulcrum is irrelevant.

The Lever, The Fulcrum, and Creation

When we take a step back to examine anything in life, it’s clear that just about everything in nature has this relationship: the lever and the fulcrum.

We don’t live in a closed-loop, linear world; everything impacts everything else, directly and indirectly, often disproportionately.

So why would entrepreneurship, art, or writing be any different?

While you may have the tools, drive, and technology (the lever) to create and ship whatever you want, what effect can it have without a fulcrum?

If you write but nobody reads your work; if you build but nobody buys your product; if you start a movement but nobody follows…

If you attempt to serve others but only serve yourself...

Are you really hitting the mark?

Are you really creating the impact you set out to create?

Are you really doing work that matters?


The tools are important, yes. We can do much more, with much less effort and in much less time than we ever could before.

Wifi, professional grade free software, 8 core processors - I am thankful for these things...

But if we don’t have a fulcrum to supply the capability for our actions…

If we don’t have a team to support, compel, and compound our work…

If we don’t have people around us to turn our noise into a signal, to spread the message, to help us serve those who need it…

Can we really do great work?


But certainly not as fast, effectively, or with as great an impact in the world as we could with a fulcrum.

Don't go it alone.

Assemble a team.

Find your fulcrum.

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2 comments on “The Lever, The Fulcrum, and Great Work”

  1. Tom,
    It's been awhile; I've been reading your articles from time to time (I'm back over in Afghanistan for the second time) while I'm over here and just surfing the net. I think they're pretty damn good man and I've enjoyed reading your work thus far. Looks like you're doing great these days professionally and I hope everything else is going well for you.