It’s the first day of the last month of 2022. Whew!   Amid the whirl of holiday plans and wrapping up the business of this year, it’s time to start planning for next year. Thinking ahead can seem daunting when you are focused on what’s in front of you.  Instead of talking about setting goals and resolutions, we’re going to spend the next four weeks discussing how adopting new ways of thinking can help us, not only with our goals for the coming year, but the vision for our life.

With the disruption of the lockdowns, I noticed a pattern in my own career. In the past, I have focused on doing a good job, which meant I was always reacting to events, instead of anticipating them. Striving to do a good job is a wonderful quality in a creator and an employee. But in today’s fast changing world, thinking strategically and being able to pivot are valuable skills to cultivate.

Undisruptable: A Mindset of Permanent Reinvention by Aidan McCullen

I read  this book  so you don’t have to! Here are the takeaways.

S Curves: A Framework for Permanent Reinvention

McCullen’s big idea is that the moment you are the most successful, that is the time to reinvent yourself because paradoxically you are already declining.  This idea is both depressing and empowering.  Depressing, because if you are at the top of your game, who wants to think about failing?  And empowering because the S Curve offers a framework to keep evolving and thus keep succeeding. 

The difficulty lies in recognizing we have reached the peak and what we can do to prevent the decline.  When everything is going right, it is easy to feel like failure is impossible. Consequently, when we are at our most successful, we are also at our most vulnerable.   To stay relevant, we must be constantly learning and evolving, both in our careers and life.  The willingness to be flexible, agile, and adaptable is at the heart of permanent reinvention. 

This is what McCullen’s S Curve looks like.

The S Curve Phases

Phase One: An idea. Your idea may be a new career, project, or skill you want to learn.

Phase Two: The beginning. A new career or learning a new skill or role. For example, you are writing your first few screenplays.

Phase Three: Things are going great! You have been promoted or mastered a new skill. As a creative you are making money and getting attention with your projects.

Phase Four: Success! Danger! The Success Trap. After succeeding, you rest on your laurels, believing that you know everything and stop learning and growing. You keep doing what you’re doing and feel threatened when anyone suggests that you could do it better or another way.

Phase Five: Stagnation, decline, and decay.

Phase Six: Jump the S Curve! You transition from success you have achieved today to possible successes tomorrow.

Jumping the S Curve:  Building New Skills

Building capability before you need it allows you jump the S Curve. Notice how the second curve starts long before we reach the peak of the first one. To jump you must start the second curve at the same time you climb the first, not when the first one is declining.  What this means is that when you are successful, that is the time to create a new vision and learn new skills.

The key is to change long before you need to because by the time we realize we need to change, it is often too late.  In happy times it is easier to try new things and recover from mistakes.  Even more challenging, jumping to a new curve always looks like a step backwards and you never know when to jump.  To stay ahead of the curve (pun intended) you must always be jumping – that is the mindset of permanent reinvention. 

The Infinity Curve:  Always Be Jumping

In our new mode of permanent reinvention, the S Curve turns into an Infinity Curve.

If you want success and growth in the future, the best time to act is now.  The secret to living in an Infinity Curve is to let go of what no longer works for you and learn skills which will work in and for your future.  To operate like this, we must reframe our relationship with change, seeing it as an opportunity rather than a threat.

How to Live in Permanent Reinvention

Embrace Resistance

Change brings resistance because people are comfortable with the status quo.  Whether it is suggesting a new idea at work or starting a new exercise routine, you will feel resistance from others and yourself.  See this resistance as a milestone.  We can expect pushback when pushing boundaries. Resistance is a natural part of any transformation.

Embrace Failure

When you try new things, often you fail.  And if you never fail, you never move forward.  Failing and making mistakes is how we learn.  McCullen says there are always assets in the ashes if you take the time to look for them.  Mistakes are only failures if we don’t learn from them.  Work on finding the assets in your ashes and bouncing back quickly. 

Embrace Cycles – the Highs & Lows

Seeing life as a series of cycles makes it easier to let the hard times go. You know the good times will come around again.  When things don’t work out as planned, you still gain valuable lessons. In an Infinity Curve the highs will outweigh the lows.

Embrace Obstacles

As  Ryan Holiday  says, “the obstacle is the way.” Failures often reveal something much better than you had envisioned. Understand there is a positive with every negative. That when you have a negative encounter, you know it is temporary and a positive experience is on the way.

Embrace Fear

Fear is an intrinsic part of the S Curve in the beginning, but it dissipates as you climb the curve.  In permanent reinvention mindset, you recognize fear as growing pains.  These growing pains are the fuel of the Infinity Curve. There is no destination. Every time we become comfortable, we enjoy the crest of the wave, but we don’t sit still.  We add a little bit more and more discomfort until we become comfortable and then the cycle starts again.

Embrace Crisis

When crises happen in life, they are devastating in the moment, but potentially reveal opportunities. By shaking us from our existing paths, unforeseen paths are uncovered. To adapt and benefit from the change, we must be flexible and ready. A crisis can be viewed as danger or an opportunity.

Let Go of the Past

Letting go of mindsets that served us in the past, makes room for new ones that will shape our future.  Do you want to be defined by your record of the past or driven by your vision of the future?

Conclusion:  Don’t wait for the storm to hit; get ahead of it.

To stay on the Infinity curve we must stay hungry, keep learning and continually evolve.  When you have a big success, enjoy it.  Also, ask yourself what is next.  What is my next step?  What skills do I need to make it happen?  Stay curious.  Stay humble.  And ride the Infinity Curve.

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