It takes a photon of light a little over 8 minutes to reach the earth after it leaves the sun’s surface. In the vacuum of space, the photon literally travels at the speed of light over the 150 million km journey. But doesn’t light always travel at that velocity? Well, not quite, as it turns out.
The centre of the sun is incredibly densely packed with hydrogen and helium atoms – even more densely packed than shoppers at Selfridges at the start of the Boxing Day sale! – and this means that the photon cannot escape quickly at all. Each photon’s energy is repeatedly absorbed and released by these atoms, creating a path of travel that scientists call a ‘drunkard’s walk’ of 700,000 km through the centre of the sun, rather than a straight line between the sun’s core and its surface.
In probably the longest ‘drunkard’s walk’ ever, each photon takes 20,000 years or more (some estimates put it at one million years) travelling inside the sun before starting its journey through space. It seems that the speed of light in the centre of the sun slows down to 3 meters per hour – which is slower than a snail!
Why do I tell you this? Well, many leaders highlight the need for pace when they really mean that they want their organisation to do more. In a bid to raise performance, they add extra initiatives, projects and demands on managers and teams that are already struggling to deliver last month’s priorities.
As one strategic initiative hits all the other ‘special’ projects – never mind ‘business as usual’ operations – it loses momentum and slows down in a similar way to photons at the sun’s core. Over time, each initiative performs its own ‘drunkard’s walk’, sometimes hitting a milestone and other times veering a million miles away from its goals and targets.
What’s the typical speed of a project at the centre of your organisation?
Off The Record: Distant Sun by Crowded House
When your seven worlds collide
Whenever I am by your side
And dust from a distant sun
Will shower over everyone