Full-speed ahead! The coast is clear and there is nothing but smooth sailing ahead. A run of success can lure you into believing there is no end in sight. The comfort of “a good thing” is not going to stoke any energy or enthusiasm to pursue a change.
Welcome to the trap of the first curve. We rarely, if ever, want to move on from a success. The unfortunate truth is we have a choice to move on from success but are forced to move on from a disaster.
In the important roles in your life, you are running a race that places you somewhere along this curve. The people who sustain and extend success always assume they are closer to the peak of the curve than those who struggle to create success they hope for.
The growth phase of the curve can create a level of blinding comfort. Imagine you are riding on a roller coaster. One of my favorites is Space Mountain at Disneyland. The suspense and excitement is greater because you are traveling in the dark—especially if you are in the first car.
Sitting back as you climb up a hill all you can see is the representation of the night sky. You can’t see when you’ve reached the peak. In an incredibly fast and swift transition what was once up is now down.
The 1st curve creates a comfort that is blinding—we can’t see the impending fast and swift transition to decline. Just like riding on Space Mountain—not because we don’t expect it but because we can’t see it and anticipate it.
The language of 1st curve thinking.
- If I can just make it ___ more years, I’ll be fine—coast into retirement.
- I don’t have enough time to make a change or learn a new skill.
- My next job has to be a promotion. It is a waste of time to make a lateral move to broaden and improve my skill set.
- I don't have time to think about the future. I’ve got plenty to work on and don’t want to be distracted or disrupted.
- I’ll have plenty of time to adjust to becoming an empty nester.
The Irish rock band U2 was formed in 1976. U2 and their iconic front man Bono were commonly recognized as the “best band in the world.” The band has sold more than 145 million albums, won 22 Grammy Awards (more than any other rock band) and 95 total awards for their music.
How does a rock band remain relevant and fresh for 40 years—2nd curve thinking.
What is 2nd curve thinking?
- Developing the discipline to not accept the past as the best guide to the your future.
- Critically looking at your position on the curve with skepticism, curiosity and inventiveness.
- Ignoring the conventional wisdom that your current recipe for success will assure your success in the future.
- Challenging yourself to think you are near the peak of the first curve and should therefore be starting the second.
At a height of musical success and adorning fans clamoring for more, Bono announced the band was going to take a hiatus. U2's announcement shocked the musical experts who suggested this would be the end of U2. Bono said, “We have to go away and dream it up all over again.” U2 began focusing on starting a new race—launching a second curve.
Second curve thinking is difficult because you have to take scarce time, talent and resources and shift them from away from your current success—a paradox that perplexes us and creates discomfort.
U2 stepped away from the limelight. Were they near the top of the curve? Their fans and musical experts may not have thought so, but they did. There were certainly other bands rising in popularity, younger and socially hot. But no one would have argued that U2 was not still one of the most relevant and influential musical acts in the world.
What can 2nd curve thinking produce?
On 9 September 2014, U2 announced their thirteenth studio album, Songs of Innocence, at an Apple product launch event, and released it digitally the same day to all iTunes Store customers at no cost. The release made the album available to over 500 million iTunes customers in what Apple CEO Tim Cook called "the largest album release of all time."
Creating Your Future Today—Launching a 2nd Curve
- Pick one of the most important roles in your life to focus on. (Faith, Family, Career, Community etc.)
- Assess your position on the curve.
- Be brutally honest with yourself.
- Is there any danger or warning signs you are missing or ignoring?
- Ask someone you trust to give you feedback on your assessment.
- Five years from now where do you want to be? Get crystal clear about envisioning your future—define it in detail. Answer: what, where, when, why, and how?
- What aspects and qualities of where you are today do you want to hold on to? Keep the best from the past while looking to experiment with what is best for the future.
- Are there changes you need to make?
- What skills do you need to improve or acquire?
- What obstacles may present themselves?
Most importantly, remember this is exploratory—planning for the future before it arrives.
My career ended in a way I never anticipated—surprise. I was closer to the top of the curve than I thought. What made the transition easier was that I had been working on building my transition plan (2nd curve thinking) for years.
If there is one thing you can count on the road to the future is rarely marked—you have to discover it for yourself. The only way to avoid the surprise of finding yourself in decline, is to embrace and develop the skill of second curve thinking.