In 1996 Dr. Andrew Grove, Intel's then CEO, published a book called Only the Paranoid Survive, where he wrote at length about the Inflection Point.
In differential calculus an inflection point is a point on a curve at which the curvature changes sign, the curve changes from being concave upwards (positive curvature) to concave downwards (negative curvature), or vice versa.
Dr. Grove defined an Inflection Point as "An event that changes the way we think and act.”
Inflection points have the power to transform business, the organization, and individuals. Of course, the goal is to manage inflection points ahead of the curve.
Personal Inflection Curve Model™
In 2004 a veteran engineer of 20 years came to me for training and coaching. He figured that someone who had reinvented herself six times before starting a business probably had a well-defined process.
Ironically, I had a process for reinventing business operations and organizations but not a personal one. In fact, for over two decades I had used my instincts to reinvent myself and had never captured my own process.
Thus began my 5-year journey of exploring the process of reinvention, inflection point transformation, and what I refer to as the Optimum Change Cycle (OCC). Along the way, I spoke with hundreds of professionals regarding their personal change cycle. Typically, I only had to ask one question to those who were going through transition or who had experienced recent setbacks: "At what point did you become a risk to yourself, your team, organization or business?"
The Early Sign Posts
I began breaking down the process of reinvention by first asking myself "How did I know when it was time for me to change?" There were always two early sign posts: intuition and peripheral vision--one being an internal feeling of restlessness, boredom, or excitement about a new idea. Then there was the external messaging that either validated my feelings or alerted me to ideas, situations or events swirling about me.
Connecting the Dots
I spent considerable time capturing my historical (25+ years) timeline in order to get a better understanding of my personal and professional peaks and valleys. What I wasn't aware of at the time was that I was exploring the connections between time and quality.
What I discovered was that there were two different "change cycles". One that I initiated for myself and one that was in response to my surroundings.
Historically, my experiences were more interesting and positive whenever I reinvented myself within a two-year timeframe. Problems would occur when I missed my "two-year marker" and passed my Personal Inflection Point (PIC). Boredom would cause me to leap at the first opportunity that presented itself, which sometimes resulted in a lucky leap, but more often it meant a blind leap where I found myself working harder to manage a bad situation.
Optimum Change Cycle
Most professionals seem to instinctively know their Optimum Change Cycle, which typically averages between 9 months to 5 years. But instincts need to be validated, as I had a client who was adamant that her OCC was at six years, when we discovered via her historical timeline that she was a "three-year marker" person. She had a history of ignoring her personal rhythm of change after two 3-year-cycles and then sabotaging her career shortly after the sixth year.
Now, what happens when your OCC is different from your surrounding environment? This can certainly contribute to workplace stress when people find themselves misaligned with their environment. This is why so many change management models don't work. They don't meet people where they are now and instead try to squeeze them into a one-size-fits-all model. This creates a barrier to deep organizational transformation.
For example, let's say you're a 3-year marker person but your organization reorganizes on a quarterly basis. While you're certainly ready to begin your reinvention process 1.5 years into your PIC, your workplace environment requires that you change more frequently. This gives you a couple of options:
- You can develop "adaptive strategies" by speeding up aspects of your OCC that allow you to remain flexible even if you never adopt your external change environment.
- You can look for other opportunities that more closely align with your Optimum Change Cycle and personal values.
You want to remain in front of your Personal Inflection Curve by proactively managing the parts that you can directly control and indirectly influence. Being caught unaware is risky in any economy, but particularly in our current economic meltdown when changes are continuously swirling around you.
If you're interested in discovering your own Optimum Change Cycle and how to leverage it in any economy, we're covering this and more during my live, interactive 8-week R.E.I.N.V.E.N.T You! intensive (as of November 1, we have 20 openings available for small groups that will begin in early January 2010).