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Melissa Shanahan

#200: Consistency: Building Stability Before Growth (Part 2)

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If you find yourself trying to reach three rungs ahead of yourself on the ladder of building your business instead of taking everything step by step this episode is for you. Today’s show is all about setting the foundation so you are clear on the move that will bridge you to the next level of success. This is a vital part of consistency that often gets overlooked.

For example, law firm owners typically think that the first hire they need to make is another attorney. However, if you get super clear with your analysis, you might find that hiring support staff like a paralegal has a higher potential ROI. Situations like this come up all the time, so Melissa is showing you how to slow down, decide what you need, and create consistency in the order that will serve you and your firm the most.

Tune in this week to start playing the long game in how you think about building your firm. You’ll learn how to reverse engineer your goals so you get consistent around the foundations, using a concept called First Principles. This is about taking consistent action that moves you forward one step at a time, instead of trying to make the big swing or wasting money on solutions you aren’t ready for yet.

If you’re a law firm owner, Mastery Group is the way for you to work with Melissa. This program consists of quarterly strategic planning facilitated with guidance and community every step of the way. Enrollment will be opening soon, so join the waitlist right now to grab one of the limited seats!

Show Notes:

What You’ll Discover:

How to slow down and see the next step that has the highest possible ROI.

Why the smartest next step isn’t always the easiest.

The best way to reverse engineer your complex goals and get to the essentials for you in your specific situation.

Some examples of law firm owners getting ahead of themselves, throwing money at things that don’t need tackling yet.

Why slowing down allows you to grow faster in the long term.

How to give your firm stability through consistency around the fundamentals instead of consistently trying to grow before you’re ready.

Full Episode Transcript:

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I’m Melissa Shanahan, and this is The Law Firm Owner Podcast, Episode #200.

Welcome to The Law Firm Owner Podcast, powered by Velocity Work. For owners who want to grow a firm that gives them the life they want. Get crystal clear on where you're going, take planning seriously, and honor your plan like a pro. This is the work that creates Velocity.

Hey, everyone. Welcome to the 200th episode of The Law Firm Owner Podcast. I am just thrilled that you're here and tuning in. Today is going to be part two of a series that we're doing to bridge over the 200th episode. This is the second in the series. This series is all about consistency; breaking down and really getting underneath the topic of consistency, so that you can make the strides and the headway towards the things that really matter to you in a sustainable way.

Now, last episode, if you haven't listened to it yet, I highly recommend you listen to that before you listen to this episode. It's going to build on that one. That episode was focused on really laying the groundwork for the topic of consistency, and letting you sink into the topic so that the subsequent episodes are more useful to you or more helpful to you, because the groundwork has been laid. So, go listen to that one if you haven't yet. And then, come to this one.

Today, we are going to be talking about the order in which you build consistency. There is a way to think about this that will lead to better effectiveness when you are trying to be consistent with something. The best way to think about this is that we tend to go out of order because something seems more exciting. Which is why we go out of order when we focus on achieving something and when you go after a goal of any kind.

And so often, what we're working with inside of my company is law firm owners with the growth of their firm and how they want to grow their firm, which is unique to them versus the person sitting next to them that also owns a law firm. It's easy to get caught up in focusing very hard on the wrong thing in order to achieve whatever it is that you actually do want to achieve.

And the reason that it's the wrong thing, is because it's out of order. And most of the time, the reason that it's out of order is because the person hasn't done the work to sit down and reverse engineer to figure out what is the next thing that they should be focused on. The more foundational thing that they should be focused on.

So, then it gets them to this new level, and then they can work on the next thing that they should be focused on. If you've been listening to this podcast for any length of time, you have heard me talk about before, that the smartest people on the planet are always reaching for the next rung in the ladder. But they know it's not about that next rung, it's about the stretch.

Well, in this case, the way I want you to frame this conversation is to think about people who try to reach three rungs ahead of them on the ladder. They aren't reaching for the next one, they're reaching for the third one up or the fourth one up; you get my point. And that is a problem.

When you don't reach for the next rung on the ladder, then it becomes very difficult to ever achieve any sort of lasting success. There's an example that I have, that I could share with you, that's really easy to point to. That exemplifies someone reaching for three rungs up on a ladder. When really, if they just would have done the work, then they would have realized that there's something else to be striving for in this moment right now, that will bridge them to the next level of success.

And so that it's easier to stand on that level next level of success, so that they can reach further. Which is, law firm owners don't do a good enough analysis when it comes to figuring out who to hire next, for the legal work part of the firm; is specifically is what I'm referring to.

And so, oftentimes there'll be an attorney, maybe they have an assistant or paralegal of some kind, but they aren't fully utilizing them. And the next position they choose to hire is another attorney. Very rarely is that the right call. Now, it might be the right call for you in your business, but they don't do the hard enough work or analysis to determine if that's the right call. And so, they will hire this very expensive hire to the firm.

And yeah, I mean, you expect an attorney to produce, so there's going to be income, there's going to be return on that investment, but it's a bloated next step. A next step, if you really thought through all the scenarios of what you could do next, the next step could have had a higher ROI on the spend, and on the investment, on the next hire.

Most of the time, people don't have enough support staff when they're just getting started. They'll hire attorneys, and they don't have enough support staff. So essentially, it's a very expensive hire when you don't have enough support staff. It's an expensive hire anyway, but it's really expensive when you consider that the return is not as great because they don't have the support they need.

So, they are actually doing paralegal type tasks too. And so, you are paying them to do paralegal type tasks, plus the attorney type tasks. But usually, people feel so stretched, or there's a reason that they're just making that next hire, they want relief as fast as possible.

And so, they make the attorney hire, when really, the smarter move, maybe not easier, but smarter move for long-term success and stability with the growth, would be to hire support staff and train them. Get things off of your plate that you should not be doing because someone else could do, but you just are used to doing it.

And so, that would be a better way to go about building a firm for the long game way of thinking about building a firm. So, when I think about this, I immediately, often, when I was writing this outline for this podcast, I thought about Naval Ravikant. If you don't know who he is, he's the founder of AngelList. And more and more throughout his life, he becomes a deep thinker that produces content to get other people to think deeply, as well, about really important things in their own worlds, in their own lives.

And one of the things he talks about a lot, whether it's business or otherwise, is First Principles thinking. First Principles thinking is one of the best ways to reverse engineer something complex. And it produces creativity within the thing that you're looking at. Sometimes it's called reasoning from first principles.

And the idea is to break down complicated problems at the basic elements, and then you reassemble them from the ground up. And it's one of the best ways to learn to think for yourself and unlock potential that you can't otherwise see. And it helps you move from linear results to nonlinear results. It can create these really big leaps towards success that you otherwise can't do without first principles thinking, or reasoning from first principles.

Shane Parrish wrote a really great article about first principles, and one of the sentences he has, or one of the paragraphs he has in his article, is this, “Reasoning by first principles removes the impurity of assumptions and conventions. What remains is the essentials. It's one of the best mental models you can use to improve your thinking because the essentials allow you to see where reasoning by analogy might lead you astray.”

Now, if at first, that seems like just a lot of words, and you need to think more deeply on it, I totally get it. But let me see if I can help just make this easier to wrap your hands around. When he says ‘reasoning by analogy’, you have to think about where you're using reasoning; because you see it done somewhere else, or because it is done somewhere else.

And so, I see this happens all the time in forums for law firm owners. Where someone will give advice, and there are so many assumptions and conventions inside of their advice, it is not tailored to that person. And it can't be, because you can't really understand that law firm owner who was asking for advice on something, you can't really see into the nuts and the bolts of the business, you can't see the essentials. So, you don't know the best advice to give them.

And so, even though it's well intended, most of the time the advice that's being given, this is where you start to run into things where you will make decisions based on the advice given. And that is reasoning by analogy. That is making decisions by analogy versus actually doing the reverse engineering and getting down to the essentials for you and for your situation specifically.

And when you do that, it allows you to think differently about how to approach the issue or problem that you're having, instead of using your reasoning by analogy. And that can lead you astray. I see it lead people astray all the time. I did X because he did X, and he has a really successful firm. Not a good reason to do X. Right? So that is something I see a lot.

Hopefully, that helps you sink your teeth into what I mean, and what he means, in this article about improving your thinking. Because the essentials allow you to see where reasoning by analogy can lead you astray. He also does a great job to provide an example of what this could look like.

And so, I'm going to read an excerpt from the article here. He's actually sharing something that he learned from a man named Tim Urban, who is a writer. Tim Urban says it's like the difference between the cook and the chef. While these terms are often interchangeably used, there is an important nuance. The chef is a trailblazer, the person who invents the recipes. He knows the raw ingredients and how to combine them.

The cook, who reasons by analogy, uses a recipe, he creates something, perhaps with slight variations, that's already been created. The difference between reasoning by first principles and reasoning by analogy is like the difference between being a chef and being a cook.

If the cook lost the recipe, he'd be screwed. The chef, on the other hand, understands the flavor profiles and combinations at such a fundamental level, he doesn't even use a recipe. He has real knowledge, as opposed to know-how.

I love this, because this really does a great job of explaining why it's not a good idea to just hire the attorney next because that's what this person over here did, who seems to be really successful. That is reasoning by analogy. And the problem with that, is if you're always looking to people outside of you for your answers, and you're looking for the blueprint, even if it is done by someone who's extremely successful, it doesn't matter.

Because if they are plucked, then you're going to be screwed. And by the way, you might be screwed anyway, because you're making decisions that was good for them. And maybe they did use first principles thinking to build it for their firm, that does not mean that it is the good thing for your firm. And people don't take enough responsibility and dig deep enough to figure out what would actually be the right decision for them and their scenario, instead of just following someone else's recipe.

So, I really liked this, and I thought it showcase really well reasoning by first principles. And the reason I'm bringing it up on this podcast is because that matters when you think about what you're going to go for and show up for and be consistent with or form a new habit with. People choose things that they shouldn't be choosing yet, oftentimes. And it's because they aren't really getting down to the basics and the foundations and the fundamentals, they're skipping ahead.

And so, the order in which you build and focus on building consistency around something matters. And I know consistency with hiring an attorney, I hope that this is translating well for you. It's just about what you're deciding to put your focus and your effort on. And people oftentimes, don't put their focus and their effort on the right things. And so, they end up spinning in circles.

Or they don't make headway nearly as quickly as they could have, if they just would have stopped and come back to the basics, and really looked at what was going to have the most impact for them and their situation at that time. That will lead them to sustainable long-term success. They could get themselves to this next level, and then they can, from there, make the decision to do the next level thing and the next level thing. But people don't do that, they jump.

So, going back to the ladder. You know, we talked a lot about that concept of people always reaching for the next rung on the ladder. People who are out of order with their approach, they are reaching for four rungs beyond them, when really they just need to reach for the next rung.

Another way that I talked about this, you've heard me say on the podcast before, is for people who are focused on things that don't make sense. It's out of order, and you when you look at their business, it's a mess inside. Now listen, we are all hot messes on some level. So, that's not just a judgement that you should be perfect, and nothing should look out of whack.

What I am saying is, people start to focus on these crazy marketing efforts and campaigns and spending a ton of money on marketing; they don't even know their numbers, they don't have their house in order. They don't know their financials at all. Not to the level that they should. Maybe they get a P&L from their accountant once a month or every three months, but that's it. That is out of whack. That is out of order.

If you're going to throw some big money at something and you're going to spend and put a lot of effort behind something, you have better have your house in order. And so, that's the same thing. It's like focusing on something that feels like it's the big swing, feels like it's the right thing to do, because you aren't using reasoning by first principles.

So, that can be a helpful concept when you decide on what you are going to show up for consistently and what you are going to put your effort into. This does matter, with the topic of consistency and building in the right order with consistency, so that things are sustainable, so that you are standing on a really strong foundation, and you know that you're supported in that next reach, whether it's a fail or not.

Building consistency in areas that creates stability, helps to lay the foundation for growth and progress. It's important to establish routines, habits, disciplines, that provide a sense of structure and stability in your life, in your firm, before focusing on consistent effort towards growth and development goals.

And if you understand this, then you go in the right order. You will save yourself a lot of grief. It does not mean that you need to move slow. I think they just want to get to the thing that's going to cause the growth. It's not that you have to move really slowly with the consistency, effort, habits, routines, and disciplines that are going to create the stability and the foundation before you focus on growth. I mean, that can go quickly.

And you would be surprised when you laser focus in on an effort, you will blow your own mind at how fast you get that done. But instead, we focus a little over here, we focus a little over there. And there isn't really consistency among all the things that we want to make headway with. Something wins out, something gets more of our attention, we drop off the other thing.

Constraining down, which we talked about in the first of the series, constraining down to decide what you are going to become very consistent around and develop routines, habits, and disciplines around will make everything go so much faster. It'll be richer, it'll be more, it'll be more correct, because you've given it the attention that it deserves to really get underneath that thing and get it set to its new next level.

It's the new normal. Consistency creates new normals for yourself. And so, if you can focus on the foundation, the basics, then it allows you to move so much more quickly and more streamlined when it is time to focus on consistency for growth, the sake of growth. And all of this is for the sake of growth.

But there are certain things that really set a foundation that allow you to grow much more quickly when you decide to put your foot on the gas with things that actually push at growth. If any of you are Andrew Huberman fans, I am, I like his podcast. His podcast is called Huberman Lab. He breaks down highly complex topics down in a way that you can really understand and make headway with. It's usually centered around health of some sort. Anyway, great podcast.

But something you'll notice that he often references is that you have to take care of foundational things so that it's easier when it comes time to reaching beyond. And that, to me, is everything that this podcast is trying to sum up. If you don't take care of the foundational things, it's going to be so much harder to reach beyond.

But people tend to reach beyond before they've taken care of the foundational things. And so, one example of this is for people who take this, weird supplement to help with some specific aspects of health, but they don't get enough sleep, they don't get any sunlight, they don't move their body, they don't have good relationships. Like, none of the foundation for a human to actually be able to function well is there.

And so, all these hacks that people try to do, or efforts that they do beyond that, the efforts are futile. But once you get your house in order, so to speak; you are sleeping properly, and you do get enough sunlight, and you do move your body and your relationships are functional and supportive. That is a new level of a foundation that now you can take yourself to the next level.

Now you can optimize. You can optimize, which is again, it's pushing at growth and development; that's optimization. You can't optimize if you don't have the foundation in place. I mean, the very definition of optimize is to make as perfect, as effective, or as functional, as possible. You can't do that unless you have the foundations in place.

So, I want you to think about in your world, what it is that you have tried to create consistency around? And it is worth taking some time to consider? You know you have a result that you're going for. That's why you want to be consistent with something. So, the ultimate result you're going for that you think the consistency will provide, are you wrong about that?

Did you skip something? Do you need, like if you reverse engineer backwards, is there something before the current thing you've been focused on creating consistency around, that needs to be consistent? So, that then it's easier to be consistent with the idea that you originally had.

And you could go back to what Andrew Huberman talks about, these foundations aren't in place, and you're never going to be getting what you want to get out of these other habits that you're layering on, because you're layering them on a crap foundation.

So, how can you think one step back? Really try to get into reasoning by first principles. You want a certain outcome, you want to be healthier, for example, and it's so much easier sometimes to apply this to you as a human than it is to business. So, that's why we're starting here.

How can you apply this to you if you want to be healthier? You've been trying to exercise five times a week, but your sleep is crap. You are eating like crap. You're not giving your body what it needs to maintain its functional normal level.

And if you did that, then it would be so much easier to stay on track with your exercise, because your body is supported in a way that allows you to have the energy to actually do the five times a week. And you're not depleting from something that there's just not a good foundation on.

So, how can you think about that? What have you tried to be consistent with in your own world business or life that you keep failing at? There's a really good chance that you actually aren't underneath it enough, you aren't first principles enough with the thinking, about what you should be consistent on.

And most people don't do that because it doesn't feel exciting. There's no thrill. But I'm telling you, the people who are most successful, they focus on the boring things. They do the boring things. They do the work, the wee things. If you listened to the podcast a long time ago, we had one about the wee things. It's the very unsexy stuff that's underneath the success.

Are you not focusing deep enough in that realm yet? So, that you can create a foundation that is strong. So, that when you then decide to reach for the next thing, you have a strong foundation that you're standing on. That allows you to get consistent with the new things so much more quickly. You will save time if you back up and think about the order in which you are trying to shoot for consistency with things.

Are you focusing on a foundational level thing? Is the foundation in place? Really, is it solid? And then you can focus on the growth aspects of things, at the optimization level, and apply consistency to something that will give optimization. If you are shooting for consistency with optimization, back it up. And if you're failing at that, if it's just not working, you can't stick with it, it's really tough to back it up and think about, where do I need to be more consistent just at a basic level?

Because if I can do that, then I set myself up for a playing a different game. And really, that is what all this boils down to, is playing the long game. You are not playing the long game, if you're going for optimization and consistency and showing up for something that feels more exciting. You could see the short-term wins, but it doesn't last.

So, where can you back up your focus and shift your focus, a notch back or 10 notches back, to something that will really pay off. The payoff is big. Often, this comes in the form of delayed gratification. People want instant gratification, so they focus on things that will give them this dopamine hit right away. But the truth is, where do you need to back up and just get it right, in terms of the order in which you are seeking consistency? And that will pay off so much better for you in the long run.

You know, I've shared on this podcast that I have been focused on team and leadership, team dynamics inside of Velocity Work. I've had Tara Gronhovd on the podcast. And I've been very transparent, that in so many ways, I feel like a beginner with this. And it's because I have never really relied on other people to get the results that I want to get.

And I imagine many of you can relate to this. If I want something, I find a way to get it done. And I know I can rely on myself. So, I do not need to trust other people to get the results that I want. That's how I've operated, up until I had my own company.

When you have your own company, you can't do it all. And so, you have to instill trust in other people. This is a new journey for me, new territory for me, to actually trust other people. And by the way, we'll talk about this with Tara. The working definition of trust that she uses, which is from Charles Feltman's book The Thin Book of Trust, is choosing to risk making something you value vulnerable to another person's actions.

Choosing to risk making something you value vulnerable to another person's actions. Okay, so in this instance, my business, something I value, my clients, something I value, vulnerable to their actions, my employees’ actions. And that's what all of you do. If you have a team member, that is what you do, too. And that is really scary.

And so, what I'm learning, the reason I'm sharing this here, is that it would be so much easier for me to just focus on hiring and training, hiring, and onboarding. That is the game I was playing. And I had this realization that no, no, I need to back up. Reasoning by first principles means that I have got to think differently about the growth of this company as it pertains to team.

And so, in doing that, now, my focus is not just on hiring and onboarding. I do want to do a great job with that, and we've made some strides there. But my focus, my focus has to be to show up and get the help that I need and the support that I need, in order to gain a skill set that I did not currently have.

So, I had to back up because I was wondering what was going wrong. I was wondering where I was feeling frustration, even though I'm hiring. I'm paying competitive wages. You know, I think our company is great to work for. Everyone that comes in our company is really excited to be here. But still, somehow, there's this level of frustration and this level of distrust between me and the team.

And realizing, whoa, it's not about hiring the right people. It's about fixing the way that I lead. And I have to do that. So now, that means this all happened because of reasoning by first principles, I backup. And I know my effort needs to be there. Once I get there, and I know and I trust my leadership abilities, then it creates the stability and this foundation for hiring and for training in the future.

That no matter how well I hire in the future, and no matter how well I train them in the future and onboard them, if my leadership abilities are not up to par, those efforts are futile. And that's what I mean. So, I had to go back to this. Now, when I'm focused on consistency and discipline and showing up in something, it is this.

And it's not the fun thing for me. What feels fun and more immediate gratification is paying a person that you believe in, to come into the organization and give you help. And the truth is, if I run that game, without focusing on the leadership aspect of this and becoming the kind of owner I need to be, in order to create a foundation that allows team retention and allows for more trust inside of the organization and allows for a better client services and customer service, all the things that I want, I have to focus here. This is reasoning by first principles.

And trust me when I say, I don't want to. I do want to because I know the long-term payoff, but it is so hard for me to hold my focus here, because it's not fun for me. It doesn't matter. It's required for the long-term success. So, that's an example of where I'm trying to show up consistently and be better consistently, because I know it's the winning factor. It's the success factor.

Whereas hiring seems short term. Like, it's going to get me more help, so I should just swing it. That it doesn't really work that way, I understand that on a deep level. And so, I've got to shift my focus. So, I'm asking you all where can you sit down and look at where are you not focused deep enough, early enough in the order of things? And where do you maybe need to make some shifts in your personal life or inside of the firm?

As we wrap up this episode, I have a list of things or have some things to say about the ramifications of focusing on consistency with growth before you first create a consistency with the foundational things that provides stability. And so, the final thoughts I want to share here on this, and this really is to serve as why and to state the case on why you should focus on the foundational things.

First, is that focusing solely on consistency with growth, before establishing consistency with foundational things that actually provide stability, that leads to burnout, it leads to frustration, it leads to a lack of progress towards goals. It has you feeling like you're spinning and your results, it's like taking one step forward and two steps back.

Or sometimes it feels like taking seven steps forward, and then 14 steps back; feels a little more drastic. But without that focus on the stability, without that stable foundation, it's so difficult to maintain consistency in other areas of your life or in other areas of your firm. And that leads to the cycle of inconsistency and lack of progress.

Because you are struggling so much that you just flame up and you flame out. And then you get motivated again, and you flame up and you flame out. The consistency doesn't stick. And also, neglecting the foundational areas can have significant negative impacts on your overall well-being, your mental health. And maybe not just for you, but those around you.

If you're working in a firm and there's team dynamics at play, it's not just you. But certainly, I can speak from an owner’s perspective and having worked with so many law firm owners, this pattern of flaming up and flaming out, which means you really just not focused on the basics, the small enough thing yet, that can lend itself to depression, anxiety, and that has compounding effects on everything else in your world and those around you.

The other results you're shooting for, the engagement that you have with the work in front of you, there's a real ripple effect to that. And it is pretty detrimental to yourself and to the business. And so, I just want to offer that, if for no other reason, focus on the basics and the foundation first. Before you focus on growth and pushing it. Growth and showing up consistently for that.

Focusing on the basics first, will ensure that you are more fulfilled all along the way. And so, I hope that this podcast can serve as some sort of a reset for those of you who need a reset, in terms of where your focus needs to be, with your decisions around what you want. You want to build discipline and habits and routines and consistency around something.

I hope it shifts it into the right direction for you. And listen, once the foundation is taken care of, and I'm not talking perfection, I just mean, really the house is in order, the foundation is stable, then go for it, my friends. Pushing things that are riskier. Pushing things that are growth. If you go in that order, it's going to be so much more efficient. Your journey will be more efficient. It will be more streamlined. You will get where you want to go so much more quickly.

So, what is your next rung on the ladder when you're reaching for things? How can you make sure that you're reaching for the next rung so that you get there, and then it allows the next level of success to be there. And then you reach again.

When people skip rungs, and they try to reach three or four ahead, which no one does on purpose, by the way. No one is intentionally doing that, it's unintentional. So, how can you get intentional reach for the rung in front of you instead of way up high? Because you trust you will be reaching for that way up high rung at some point, it just doesn't need to be now. Build the foundation.

And people who want to jump ahead, it's almost like they don't trust that they'll ever be able to be in the place where they get to reach for that thing. Know, have patience, delayed gratification, get your house in order, focus on foundation, focus on stability, and showing up with consistency for those things will make it so that you can thrive. When you are showing up for consistency for the bigger pushes, in terms of growth that will stack on top of your foundation.

And when you do that, it means that your wellbeing and the wellbeing of your firm will remain intact, regardless of the pushes that you make and of the risks that you take. And that is something that's really powerful and special. To know that and to trust that foundation underneath you. It means you can move faster; you can optimize, you can put things into place that will have bigger effects because the foundation is in place.

And so, I don't know where you are on your journey. But where can you have a look at where your order is mixed up. And you need to actually put focus on the most important things that are going to build stability, true stability. And from there, then you can show up with consistency and with effort and commitment towards growth; stability, then growth.

All right, everybody. Have a wonderful week. Thank you for tuning in to the 200th episode of The Law Firm Owner Podcast. I'll see you here next week with the third in the series of four on consistency.  

Hey, you may not know this, but there's a free guide for a process I teach called Monday Map/ Friday Wrap. If you go to, it's all yours. It's about how to plan your time and honor your plans. So that, week over week, more work that moves the needle is getting done in less time. Go to to get your free copy.

Thank you for listening to The Law Firm Owner Podcast. If you're ready to get clearer on your vision, data, and mindset, then head over to, where you can plug into Quarterly Strategic Planning, with accountability and coaching in between. This is the work that creates Velocity.

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