Learning or traveling through curves
The present is today a chaotic universe in which the rules, but also the game, change regularly, putting to the test the abilities of people and, implicitly the companies that must make permanent learning a goal in order to survive in the reality they face. Or rather, a continuous marathon that involves trying, failing, adjusting, trying and so on.
One such principle is that of "sigmoidal curves", those winding lines in the shape of the letter S, each curve with a strong "why" behind it and which represents the line of all human things, of our own lives, of organizations, of governments and empires.
Developed by E.M. Rogers in 1962, the S-curve is a graphic illustration of how ideas spread across cultures. The ascent is relatively slow at the base of the S until a summit point is reached. Hyper-growth follows the steep back of the curve; then growth slows again as potential is reached. Whether the growth we pursue increases profitability, personal satisfaction, or both, the S-curve illustrates the same principles. If everything goes well, then the line continues to rise, but there comes a time when the curve inevitably reaches its peak and begins to descend. The descent can be prolonged but, often, oblivion awaits at the end of it.
Next, you may wonder how the descent can be stopped. Well, the descent cannot be stopped, but a solution to succeed still exists, and this is called a second curve. Charles Handy talks about this at length in his book, "The Second Curve". The unpleasant and often fatal aspect of this second curve is that it must begin before the first curve reaches the top. Only then are there enough resources - of money, time and energy - to cover that initial fall.
In order to better understand this concept, I thought of two examples:
1. The Founder of Apple, Steve Jobs;
2. English football club, Manchester United, under the leadership of manager Sir Alex Ferguson;
Of course, you may wonder what Steve Jobs has to do with football, but as I mentioned before, the principles of the curve are valid in any field.
First of all, the common element of the two examples is durability. Apple products and services have been on the market for a very long time, and the legendary manager sat on the bench of the Manchester club for 27 years. When the iPod began to dominate the market, Jobs already had the design sketches of the iPhone, a new product for a very different business, which was followed, once successful, by the iPad. Each new curve was conceived before the previous one reached its peak, and each new curve grew from the last, but aimed at a very different market.
Sir Alex Ferguson was careful to bring in new talents before the current top players passed their peak, even if occasionally this meant losing stars who still had some time to play. Unfortunately, it will always be difficult to keep the creators of the first curve engaged while you build the future under them. The obvious answer is to help them create the beginnings of a second curve of their own, but not before your own second curve has been established.
The future is headed our way, and when it arrives, it won't look like the present. It never does. The key to thriving – not just surviving – is anticipating the tide; imagining a possible future and shaping it through our own unique contributions. Choosing to disrupt rather than being forced to do so maximizes our potential for both profit and personal satisfaction.
Whitney Johnson also talks about the second curve, who divides the development moments of a team into Launch Point, Sweet Point and Mastery Point. For those who are at the Launch Point in their professional development (either they are at the beginning of their career or they have entered a new role/project) it is necessary to offer them training, feedback and continuous support.
In the case of those who are in Sweet Point, it is advisable to resist the temptation to give them more work. If we notice that they are starting to get good at what they do, we should let them focus on that.
For those who are in Mastery Point, it would be beneficial to offer them new challenges, but not as big as the one they went through to reach mastery. Then, on their new curve, they will be in the launch stage again, so the story repeats itself over and over again. However, it is essential to respect the timing.
We cannot prevent the forces of change, but we can harness their power to propel us upward. Disruption on our own terms makes us agents of change S-curve surfers, not hooks thrown to and from and then stranded on the beach. We can shape the wave of the future and then catch the next wave that is coming, equipped with the skills, tools and the essential fitness to ride it to success.