Monday, June 15, 2009

Switching between learning curves.

The great flywheel of habit keeps a lot of companies on the same straight path long after it's become clear that they’ll face tougher times unless they learn to adapt. It takes a great deal of energy, determination and intellectual courage to question the basic purposes of our lives. Yet this is exactly what more and more of us are having to do as the structure of American industry continues to shift, as old careers and opportunities dry up, and as new ones emerge and develop.

Studies show that living organisms have learning curves that are S-shaped. People start with a period of slow orientation followed by rapid acceleration. However, at a certain point, the curve begins to tip downward. So, if a person doesn’t get on a new curve, their success in life is sharply limited. Success gives the illusion that the curve only goes up. It requires reflection and introspection to know otherwise. To be introspective means creating an observation point where you can see the past and the future and then decide what to do next.

This means retreating, withdrawing to reassess, reframing and returning. Individuals are most likely to do this when they see different values and conflicts between themselves and their work or their organization. Face up to it and decide what you can change within the organization and what you have to change for yourself. As Professor Pam Posey points out, transitioning between learning curves (created by plotting results v/s effort) is very tricky to do. “It feels like a free fall zone - it feels like we’re throwing away our progress and going back to ground zero again.”

Tractors left farmers working on their own. The city and factory left people working on their own, surrounded by others working on their own. The world became an army with lines of command driven down through management, government, education, and society. Laws and rules were made like precise mechanical engines. The message was to be a cog. That way, you knew your place. How can we know our place today, when the place itself is only there in passing? No, it's not a time to know your place, but to make your place.

“A man needs a little madness or else he'll never dare to cut the rope and be free” - Zorba the Greek

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