How the Growth-Curve can help us navigate change

How the Growth-Curve can help us navigate change

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How the Growth-Curve can help us navigate change

Ecological patterns: how the Growth-Curve can help us navigate change

Oktober 16, 2020

This summer I read the fascinating book The Year 1000 by Valerie Hansen, professor of history at Yale. She takes you on a journey around the world and describes how globalisation began as early as the year 1000 (!). For example, the Vikings set foot in America 400 years before Columbus reached the continent.

Discovery voyages around the year 1000 were full of insecurities and led to great changes in the international traffic of people, things and ideas. And so our ancestors asked questions about that insecurity, about growth and change. The same questions we ask ourselves today: How do you navigate change? How do you gain value from opportunities and challenges? How do you deal with people with different views and customs, with new ideas and other perspectives? How do you approach new situations and uncertain times? 

In our work, we use the Growth-Curve as an anchor. It is an ecological pattern that is a given. The S-shaped movement of the Growth-Curve can be found in everything that lives: from a blade of grass to a multinational. Its pattern gives us the insights to be able to be adaptable and resilient in today’s world. Hansens’ book shows that the principle of the Growth-Curve is not new. The lesson that we can learn from our forebears according to her, is like music to our organisation-ecologist ears:

Successfully navigating change depends on the ability to adapt to new situations and to be open to the unknown.

Adapting to a new situation around the year 1000 could be (and often had to be) very practical: a strange new climate often asked for different survival strategies. Compare the Thule (ancestors of the modern Inuit) to the Norse discoverers for example. The latter missed a crucial skill to be able to settle long-term in the new land: 

“The Thule were able to move all the way from Alaska to eastern Canada and then to Greenland because of their superior ability to hunt seals – even in winter. This skill set allowed the Thule to displace the Norse settlers, who were less able to adapt to the harsh conditions and retreated back to Iceland."

With a backpack full of history on a voyage to the unknown

Thus, different environments offer challenges, but they can also open up new possibilities. Then as well as now, it is important to decide continuously what is needed to act on opportunities at the right time and in the right way:

“...close attention to one’s environment and the willingness to wait for the right moment can reap dividends...”

According to Hansen, the past shows us that we can best respond to the unknown by being open to these opportunities. Here again, we see the interaction on the Growth-Curve: on the one hand, we are informed by existing structures and on the other hand, we welcome the new to shake things up. This movement of feedback and feedforward goes hand in hand:  

“Some Vikings killed the indigenous people sleeping under canoes without even checking to see if they were dangerous. On other continents, those who encountered strangers took their time, greeted strangers patiently, and traded their belongings for whatever goods their new acquaintances offered. Some of the most successful learned new languages and forged trading relationships across huge distances. True, globalization didn’t benefit everyone who experienced it. But those who remained open to the unfamiliar did much better than those who rejected anything new. That was true in the year 1000, and it’s just as true today.”

Marjan Pantjes
mpantjes@human-insight.com
in collaboration with Zeldi Storni