The Sigmoid Curve And The Story Of Life

I'm just back from a few weeks in North America. On the plane I particularly enjoyed a movie called Moneyball because of its focus on reinvention and the pursuit of excellence.  Brad Pitt's character is based on the real life Billy Beane who is experimenting with a new way to build a winning baseball team, and he finds himself up against scepticism and resistance from within the club. While these will always be a challenge for anyone looking to change the status quo, the biggest challenge is often managing the disappointment of poor initial results.  In Billy Beane's case, there is a series of disastrous early results before his radical strategy starts to work.

Success seldom starts in a blaze of glory

I liked the movie because it is a reminder that success with any new project seldom starts in a blaze of glory.  The pattern works like this. Initial hope and enthusiasm are inevitably met with wobbly beginnings as we work out the kinks.  If the idea is sound, and we are persistent and open to learning, small wins eventually build into strong growth and success. But nothing lasts forever, and ultimately this heartening growth will plateau, leading into decline and decay.

This is the story of life. Think of a tree, a person, a business, a product or a career. The initial struggle to survive followed by growth and prosperity, then maturity and decline. The business philosopher, Charles Handy, refers to this as the Sigmoid Curve. He advises us to think about reinventing ourselves when we are in the growth stage, well before the inevitable plateau sets in. This is because, at this stage, we have the resources to invest in trying out new things and the energy to absorb the initial hiccups. Also, trying to reinvent yourself when you are declining is problematic because you now have other things to worry about.

The trouble is we often don't see the need for reinvention when we are in the growth stage because we're too busy enjoying our success or too arrogant to look ahead and see the plateau coming. This principle applies as much to business as it does to personal relationships and careers.

Reinventing the FRI office

Here's one example of how we've implemented the principle of reinvention in our business. We recently decided to close our Brisbane head office and go "virtual". The FRI office has been a hub of energy, creativity and fun for staff and clients over many years. But we felt, to take the business further and serve our clients better, having quality people is more important than a physical office. So now we have 12 talented people working independently all over Australia.

Initially some of us struggled, not having colleagues physically around to chat with and bounce ideas off, and we did lose a few staff.  We also had some inevitable teething problems with technology. However we have since smoothed these out and found new ways to use online tools for fun and collaboration. We are also investing more time in organising events to keep that important face to face interaction with staff, clients and colleagues alive. A lot of people have asked why we made this move. The answer is, it’s a strategy to stay ahead of the Sigmoid Curve, and I am pleased to say it is all working well.

In summary, new personal or business initiatives often have a shaky start, so don’t get discouraged. When success does kick in stay vigilant and plan on reinventing yourself sooner than later. And when you do launch your new personal or business initiative, remember... new initiatives often have a shaky start, so don’t get discouraged…and so the process continues.


Good luck until next time,

                                                                                                  

Greg Nathan

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