spinning plates
by Toby Barazzuol on Wednesday Apr 22, 2009

As a boy, I remember going to the circus and watching in amazement as an acrobat spun plates on sticks.  He would balance a plate on a stick, and then wiggle the stick until suddenly, magically…it would spin on its own.  One by one, he went down the line until there were over a dozen plates spinning on sticks.  Every so often he would run back to a plate that was slowing down and wiggle the stick until the plate was spinning quickly again.  Eventually though, there were too many plates to keep going and one by one, they started to crash down.

Years later, I came to realize how similar this is to running a business, or building community, or even life in general.  Every project or initiative that we begin takes some planning and energy to get it up and running.  We have to work, sometimes pretty hard, until that project is spinning nicely and humming along.   Then once it’s going, we can sometimes  leave it for a little bit and coast along ...but not forever.  Invariably, wobbles and problems begin to appear – small at first, but usually getting bigger until we decide to commit more resources to “wiggling the stick” again to make that plate spin nicely.  If we leave it unattended for too long, it will eventually come crashing to the ground (or fade into obscurity).  Crashing plates is one thing, but when we're talking about business responsibilities or relationships, it's definitely another.

As a business, we have to decide which plates we’re going to spin and how much energy we can put into each one at any given time.  Too much energy in one place and other things will start to wobble.  Spinning too many plates and we’re frantically running around trying to keep them all going.  After 10 years, we’ve got a pretty good idea how many plates we can keep going, we've developed a world class team that keeps many things aloft.  Eclipse clients, staff and family always get the most attention...if those plates are not spinning at top speed, trouble is on the horizon.  Community building, technology, social media, designing, learning new things and having fun...those are all a close second.   Then sometimes we just need to buckle down and make sure that everything is spinning nicely so that we can rest for a bit and take a break from everything.

How many plates are you spinning in your life or business or family?  Are you putting in the right amount of energy into each one?  Do you have too many plates on the go?  Or can you “wiggle some more sticks” and contribute more to your community, family, or work?  These are ongoing questions, but there is something deeply satisfying when all the plates are spinning harmoniously and we can step back and appreciate the results of our energy.  Then life taps us on the shoulder and tells us it's time to jump back in the game, there's a plate that's getting wobbly...

Dominique - Thursday Sep 15, 2016 at 8:58am PST
Preparing slides about PMO Change Management, I was searching for a picture to illustrate my feeling, with the terms "circus spinning plates"...

And I found your article :-)
It is just great !

Raśl - Thursday May 26, 2011 at 3:19pm PST

What a such nice article! Frankly, I sometimes feel in the same way that you described the acrobat spinning plates on sticks :)

Best wishes!

Sara - Tuesday Dec 14, 2010 at 6:33pm PST

I really like your picture af the spinning plates.
Can I use it for a magazine?
Where did you buy it?

Thanks in advance for your reply...

David Kuefler - Thursday Jun 4, 2009 at 11:16am PST
I like to call it "crisis managing abundance". Great story.
Sheia - Tuesday May 26, 2009 at 11:07am PST
Life is like that, when all is going smoothly, you can take a minute to reflect and count our blessings. Great metaphor.
Jeff - Tuesday May 12, 2009 at 10:08am PST
What a great metaphor!



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