Some time ago, I was reading an article from @aalbaperez about how Digital Transformation is an issue much more related to people that to technology. I started thinking how different principles and theories we apply to technology, or other business management aspects, could be perfectly applicable to people. With this in mind, I want to elaborate a little in this short article about the concept of S-Curves applied to a professional career. I originally published this article directly on LinkedIn, but I hope you find it interesting.
If you follow this blog, you would be aware how I like to reflect on different aspects of Innovation and how we can bring knowledge from other practices into this field. A very well known concept in the world of Innovation and Technology is that of the S-Curves. In a few words, we can describe as how the lifecycle of a successful product or technology very often follows a path similar to a somewhat flattened letter S, starting to climb slowly to pick up slope afterwards, and flattening back again at the end, with two clear inflection points in its evolution.
We can identify the first phase of the curve with the initial, and often slow, evolution of the product or technology in the market until it gathers the necessary critical mass, diffusion, or whatever it needs to reach a second phase of accelerated growth and popularity. Eventually the growth slows down into the third phase when saturation arrives. Some authors include two additional inflection points, an initial descent from the peak of inflated expectation to the trough of dillusionment (using the terminology of Gartner’s Hype Cycle), as well as a final descent at the point of diminishing returns; however, we will stick with the more simple S-Curve shape for this discussion.
This is a concept that has been around for more than a century, but it was a few years ago when, if I am not mistaken, proposed by some authors from Accenture, the idea of “Jumping the S-Curve” was introduced. It means that in order to maintain relevance in the market, it was necessary to jump to a new curve before the previous one flattened, allowing for a continuous growth path. Of course, it is much easier to say it than that to do it. Anyhow, I do not want to elaborate on how to apply this concept as a guideline to business innovation, but instead to bring it to people.
The application of this “Jumping the S-Curve” to the professional career is, of course, neither mine nor new. After a quick search, several references came up, amongst which I would like to recommend the following article from the Consultants Mind (http://www.consultantsmind.com/2013/09/21/what-is-an-s-curve/) or this publication of Whitney Johnson in Harvard Business Review (https://hbr.org/2012/09/throw-your-life-a-curve). However, I think it is worth for all of us dedicating some time to thinking about what this concept can imply for our professional life.
I am not specially fond of the “grow, grow, grow” obsession, so common in the market nowadays, but regarding your professional life, I do believe it is a very good recommendation. Of course, you can feel content at any time, but that is dangerously close to being stuck, the first step towards a steep slide down, so beware. Keep in mind that I am not specifically referring to growing in earnings or responsibility, but also to growing in experiences, knowledge, contacts…
The S-Curve represents very well our path in a successful job. We start slow, we are not very good or fast at what we do, but with effort (and some luck always helps) we start getting better and better, becoming very productive for a time, until we end up saturated, spent or, even worse, obsolete. Well, that is when we need to remember how jumping the s-curve is recommended for businesses, and apply it to us. Don’t wait to become obsolete, keep learning always, and be prepared to jump to next curve, whether in your own company or in a different one. Again, easier said than done, because change is always difficult and to start anew being “not so good” is tricky and even scary. It is also true that wanting is not enough, that an opportunity has to arise, but normally opportunities come quicker to those who are ready to take them.
Let me give you a trivial example to illustrate my point. I moved from ski to snowboarding many years ago and think it was a good choice for me. Last year, I proposed a friend who is a very good skier, but that actually feels a little bored with it, to make the switch to snowboard. When writing this, I remembered his arguments about how he didn’t want to return to falling down all the time, or moving to the easy slopes. Yes, jumping the curve is not easy, but he may be missing some thrilling new experiences by not trying.
I, myself, have jumped a the professional S-curve every five or six years, and I did it again a few months ago. And although I am still treading through the learning phase, I can see how interesting and rewarding this new stage of my career can become.
So, are you ready to jump?