Of Transformation and Inflection Points

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,

Why I’m not doing resolutions this year… and some interesting alternatives

Every year most of us approach the New Year as an opportunity to jump-start our lives, or at least our vision for our lives.  Resolutions are one of the most popular ways to renew our sense of purpose.

This year I’m not doing them.

Instead, I’ve been experimenting with cultivating the right daily and weekly habits.  Increasingly I have been feeling that resolutions, while giving us focus, have too much of a duality: you either achieve them or you don’t.  On the other hand, improving daily habits will provide you with a richer life both personally and professionally. Annie Dillard got it right when she said, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives”.

In this spirit, I offer three alternatives on what to focus on in 2019:

  1. Build in (and schedule on your calendar!) reflection periods throughout the year – either on your own or with close friends.  This is time devoted to reflecting on where you are and reflecting on how you want to course-correct.  This makes personal growth an ongoing effort, with smaller steps.
  2. Instead of a to-do list (which is, in essence, a list of goals), focus on a “not to do” list – what is it you want to let go of?  What do you want to clean out of your life? Leave behind?  View the new year as an emotional or mental house-cleaning time.
  3. Accept yourself the way you are!  (i.e don’t make a resolution this year).  Use the time to just be comfortable with yourself – warts and all.  Not only will this save you from the stress of the never-ending “fixing” yourself treadmill. Can you imagine how immensely satisfying the feeling of just sitting with “right now, I am enough” could be?

Whatever you choose to do – reflection, resolution, acceptance or nothing at all – growth happens in many ways and phases.  Here’s to all of us growing in 2019!

All the best,

Top Learnings from Columbia Business School’s Pan-European Forum

I am delighted to have recently attended Columbia Business School’s Pan European Forum in Paris. Aside from connecting with old friends and a fantastic community of over 700 attendees (!), the pure richness of learning experiences and stimulating keynote and panel speakers, including Carlos Ghosn, Dil Sidhu and Joseph Stiglitz, pushed my thinking and re-energized me on so many levels.

There were so many take-aways from the conference, but for right now, here are my top three:

1) Leadership and Culture change are still major drivers of organizational transformation….and some of the toughest nuts to crack. Almost all the speakers, regardless of the specific industry or topic they were addressing, focused on how vital it is for leaders to renew their own capabilities and styles and to create cultures where people, at all levels of the organization, are truly connecting with each other and with new ideas. Given the chance, people will bend over backwards to contribute their best to organizations who make them winners, so the job of leaders is to engage as many people as possible.

There were also lots of discussions on the importance of developing a leader’s ability to re-invent him/herself – to take the time to reflect, develop self-awareness and be ready and nimble in adapting and updating based on changing needs.

2) Get comfortable with holding opposing ideas at the same time. Instability and rapid change means complexity and constant evolution of what is required from leaders. Smart leaders learn to handle ideas that appear to be paradoxes: concentrating on short term and long term results at the same time or focusing on set targets and developing deep competencies while being ready to change quickly. Ambiguity is now one of the defining features of the workplace, therefore being able to stand strong in the midst of this uncertainty is crucial to success.

3) AI is growing…and it will augment, not substitute, human capabilities. A fascinating panel discussion with Tim Campos, Marc Bousquet and Jean-Philippe Desbiolles challenged the audience to view AI as Augmented Intelligence, not ArtificialIntelligence. As machines get better at even “soft skills” through progress in visual recognition, language, empathy, and experience, it can be nerve wrecking to think what they will be capable of. However, humans are unique, and have an innate ability to make complex decisions on far less data than machines. So the question is how do we challenge ourselves to interact with machines? How can they help us perform more better? The obvious answers are in tasks that require repetitive, routine work and detailed data analysis. However, machines can also help in other ways. For example, since machines have no biases, they can provide options human decision makers might not even have thought of (out of our comfort zone, prevailing corporate culture etc.). Machines are evidence based – they can provide alternative best options, then allowing humans to use their skills to make a decision. This type of AI is already starting to be used in areas such as recruiting and even interviewing, where by identifying key words and micro expressions, machines are already helping humans make better decisions.

In the end, I am deeply grateful to be part of such a vibrant community of business leaders and for the generosity of the many experts and leaders who shared their key learnings and insights on steering and growing organizations through difficult times. And of course, Kudos and huge Thank you to the fantastic team who worked very hard to put this together!


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Do you work as hard on yourself as you do others?

My fellow Forbes Coaches Council member Divya Parekh recently posted a story which has been on my mind quite a bit:

A little boy went into a drug store, reached for a soda carton and pulled it over to the telephone. He climbed onto the carton so that he could reach the buttons on the phone and proceeded to punch in the phone numbers. The store-owner listened to the conversation.

Boy: ‘Lady, Can you give me the job of cutting your lawn?
Woman: (at the other end of the phone line): ‘I already have someone to cut my lawn.’
Boy: ‘Lady, I will cut your lawn for half the price of the person who cuts your lawn now.’
Woman: I’m very satisfied with the person who is presently cutting my lawn.
Boy: (with more perseverance): ‘Lady, I’ll even sweep your curb and your sidewalk.
Woman: No, thank you.
With a smile on his face, the little boy replaced the receiver. The store-owner, who was listening to all this, walked over to the boy.
Store Owner: ‘Son… I like your attitude; I like that positive spirit and would like to offer you a job.’
Boy: ‘No thanks.’
Store Owner: But you were really pleading for one.
Boy: No Sir, I was just checking my performance at the Job I already have. I am the one who is working for that lady I was talking to!’

What I love about this story is not how smart or resourceful or clever the kid is, but the genuine and persistent way with which he actively pursued getting “real-time” feedback on his work.
Of course I know some will immediately point out the flaws in the methodology and/or format of the feedback, so let me acknowledge right away, of course it’s not perfect or complete. But that’s not the point I was trying to make.
What really attracted me was the natural instinct he had to get external validation for his performance, instead of doing what I’ve seen many of us do – rely just on our own idea of how we feel we’re doing. I also loved the unflinching and determined way he pursued getting the feedback.
What would happen if more senior leaders, who are investing heavily in changing and improving organizational capabilities, also intentionally took the time and effort to work on our own capabilities — to improve, update or just check we’re getting it right? Isn’t this the very heart of design thinking as it relates to Leadership? Are we all growing and changing as fast as the world around us is? Are we staying ahead of the curve on a personal level? How do we know? What are we doing about it?
Hope the rest of your summer is relaxing – and I hope I’ve given you something to dream/ think about!

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Addicted to Work? Getting Past Clichés to Recognize Your Tipping Point

We all know someone who cannot put their phone down. Ever. At dinner parties, at concerts, on vacations, the phone is always on and they cannot help but look at and answer the super-important emails.

And even though it’s hard to recognize, and even harder to admit – aren’t we often that person?

It makes sense – the super-turbo speed of our days, the jam-packed schedules and the non-stop digital stimulation has made most so many of us addicted to our work.

What’s worse, since we don’t really have time to stop and think, we aren’t often aware of or acknowledge our behavior, we continue to rush our way around the crazy treadmill of life and thus jeopardize our productivity and creativity and increase stress and frustration.

We recognize what this does to others, we don’t always recognize it in ourselves. This is not good for us, our work, our families, or for our society. And it’s expensive: one well cited study showed that job stress costs the US economy $300 billion dollars a year!!!

In this economy, we are our biggest assets – our futures and peace of mind rely on our ability to reinvent ourselves, to create, to execute with laser sharp focus. And true creation and insight comes from having “white space” in our lives to recharge, to idly let our brains make random connections and to be grounded enough to fly high mentally. So keeping balance is a key skill.

Culture Consultant and Millennial Engagement Expert MaryBeth Hyland has a great set of questions she uses to help clients understand their relationship with work that she has kindly allowed me to share with you.

As MaryBeth says, “One thing should be clear in life: We’re not meant to just pay our bills and die”. What are you meant to be doing?

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So let’s just lift our heads up from the tedium for just one second and start to understand how we relate to work. Only then can we start to do anything about it. As always, I am always interested in your thoughts and comments.

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Imposter Syndrome and Uncertain Times

Recently, we all saw the stock markets drop.  Some investors panicked.  Others set about looking at the fundamentals in companies in order to start investing in those that they knew would come back up.

It’s the same with people.

Today, with seismic changes in almost all aspects of our society occurring regularly, the sense of instability and shakiness are heightened in us all.  Most of us have heard about the famous “imposter syndrome” and yet  no matter what we’ve heard, we all still feel it sometimes and find ourselves worrying about when the world will find out the truth about our insecurities and worries.

As many wise investors find, in a falling and uncertain market there are significant opportunities to invest.   I believe that, in these uncertain times, you need to invest in yourselves and, in doing so, you lessen your instability by building a stronger core.      What are you doing to grow?  To stay updated?  To take time to reflect and understand the seismic changes going on in the world around you?

For me, developing a mindfulness practice – something so against my dynamic and action-oriented personality – had been a game changer.  I’m not a meditator – but by taking 30 seconds – a couple of minutes before each client session, meeting or even before sitting down and researching/writing articles, gives me a sense of focus, and stills the sensation of “being all over the place”.

Being centered, feeling purposeful, helps you become more accurate and succinct in your work….which reduces stress.

And what combats imposter syndrome?  Grounding.  Achieving more, and doing even “greater” things, will not quell imposter syndrome.  Only shifting your focus from external validation to internal grounding will.

Even the great Maya Angelou suffered from Imposter Syndrome: “I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’ “

So what did she do?  When she started to panic, she worked on her core strengths and got better at them – by writing more.  So take a page out of her book: “write more” – invest in yourself.