We all know the frustration of working long and hard at something, expending lots of mental and emotional energy…. only to see very little visible results. I hear this from people who are working out to get fit or dieting to lose weight, or from writers and artists who feel blocked or stuck.
I also hear this frequently from clients who are struggling to change, to grow.
The other day my husband, who works with new startups and new products, was talking to me about how important the concept of inflection point is when launching any new or different project. Although originally a mathematical term, in business, the inflection is the point in a trajectory when it makes a dramatic change in direction – the point when the fundamentals of a business or product change significantly. So for example, when you launch a new product, it takes a while for the market to catch on and before things take flight. Savvy investors know not to panic, to keep moving ahead even though it looks like “nothing is happening”.
An inflection point is usually the consequence of some catalyzing factor: reaching a critical mass of subscribers/members that sparks a network effect, or when youtube videos go viral, or any event that allows the intended target audience to very rapidly catch on to either the novelty or importance or usefulness of what you’re doing or selling. My point is that inflection points are generally not just the sum of a number of initiatives – which is an accumulation of activities – but also a detonator, an event – ie: the fall of the Berlin wall for the political transformation of Eastern Europe – that allows all the work, patiently done over time, to bear fruit all of a sudden.
It’s not that there’s nothing for a long time and then, all of a sudden, there’s something — it’s more that progress seems to be very slow or hidden. In the meanwhile, you’re usually operating on faith, which can often look like struggling to just get two steps forward and one step back. Then, of a sudden, there is the inflection point when the tide suddenly changes, and everything comes together and blooms.
To me this is the perfect analogy of the nature of inner or personal growth – whether it’s related to leadership, maturity, or even parenting. Because whenever you’re playing a long game (which, by definition most of transformation is), there’s a lot of underground work that you don’t really know when it’s going to pay off. It’s messy. It’s dark. It’s murky. But because we don’t know always know how to predict the precipitation point, we can give up too easily.
In the business world, the change and triggering factor is easier to notice because we’re used to tracking and recording every small thing; we are primed to watch for the change, and we have words and ways and stories to support it.
But internal growth is harder to track. It often comes as a sudden flash: “Wow, THAT, wouldn’t have happened six months ago”. We know that all the tedious work is necessary and that we wouldn’t get anywhere without …but it can be hard to trace the micro changes that occur within us. We are hyper- focused on “How do I see results quickly” – to which the answer is, of course, “You don’t!”.
So maybe in times of transition and growth, it would be better to focus on solving for “how do I live with uncertainty and microscopic growth”. Which means you have to just keep doing the work and having faith.
If you stop because you don’t see immediate results, you just might deny yourself of the big inflection point, where things start to go your way. But by building personal resilience, you find yourself quietly emerging and ready to bloom when the factors fall into place.
All the best,